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Talking to the Animals, Cockroach Hisses Back

March 30, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ House Speaker Newt Gingrich talked with the animals again Friday, but only a hissing cockroach talked back.

The Georgia Republican, who has frequently hosted events featuring rare zoo animals since he became speaker, guest-hosted CNN’s ``Larry King Live″ to promote April as ``National Zoo and Aquarium Month.″

Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo, brought everything from a legless lizard to poisonous toads to the show.

As a 20-foot Burmese python was draped across Gingrich’s shoulders, the speaker quipped, ``Do you realize how much David Bonior, at this very moment, is hoping the show goes wrong?″

Bonior, the House minority whip from Michigan, has led Democrats’ criticism of Gingrich.

Last November, Gingrich was bitten on the chin by a baby cougar that Hanna had brought to visit the Capitol.

The python let Gingrich go unscathed Friday, as did another which Hanna noted had 220 fishhook-like teeth. In fact, none of the show’s mishaps were anything a paper towel couldn’t fix.

Gingrich fed a baby Bengal tiger from a bottle and let a bearcat perched on his shoulders eat grapes out of his hand.

A white cockatoo took a shining to the speaker, returning to perch on his hand.

``Hello? Do you love Newt?″ Hanna asked the bird, probing its vocabulary. The cockatoo remained silent, but raise its magnificent crest, to Gingrich’s delight.

The only animal that made a peep was one of a pair of hissing Madagascar cockroaches that Hanna adeptly placed on the speaker’s tie.

One bug made its way slowly up the necktie, crossing the tiny microphone, and was approaching Gingrich’s throat when it was time for a station break.

``All across America people are going, `Yuck! What are those guys doing?‴ Gingrich said.

For the finale, Hanna trotted out a miniature donkey, evoking the Democratic Party’s symbol.

``Miniature donkeys is the right size for me: tiny, small, not threatening,″ Gingrich said.

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