On the list is Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who made a brave recovery after being shot in January. Also present is Adele, whose soulful voice and lyrics left heartbreaking men worried in 2011. Royal wedding dress designer Sarah Burton and Spain’s flamboyant Duchess of Alba were expected entries. But ... a panda?

Sweetie, a.k.a. Tian Tian, eats a “panda cake” in her enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland, on Christmas Day. (Andrew Milligan/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

“So the BBC couldn’t find a woman for Sports Personality of the Year but they could find a panda for a female face of 2011 #pandagate,” wrote former British deputy prime minister John Prescott, one of many across the pond who tweeted their disgust over the choice.

Glasgow-based journalist Jennie Kermode agreed with Prescott, demanding on Twitter that the BBC ask itself why it couldn’t find more examples of female successes in their headlines.

Others likened the BBC to the tabloids. Belfast actor James McAnespy accused the venerable broadcaster of taking the “Daily Mail approach that if you hate women they will read you more.”

The negative tweets kept rolling in, most of them chastising the BBC for sexism and nearly all of them using the hashtag #pandagate — a nod, perhaps, to this year’s Hackergate, a phone hacking scandal centered on the News of the World tabloid.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow asked readers of her blog to come up with a human to take Sweetie’s place. Many people starting tweeting their choices for a #realwomanoftheyear.

Several journalists pointed out, however, that Sweetie isn’t the first non-human female to make the cut on the BBC’s annual lists. In 2010, the network listed the Peppa Pig cartoon as a female face. And in 2009, it named a carp as a male face.

By mid-morning, much of the chatter over #pandagate had turned humorous, and Sweetie even got her own Twitter account:

Readers, what do you make of #pandagate? Have your say in the comments section below.

View Photo Gallery: Philanthropist David M. Rubenstein is donating $4.5 million to the National Zoo’s giant panda reproduction program, which will pay the tab for five years of reproduction efforts and other costs.