Newt Gingrich and the late polar bear Knut at the Berlin Zoo in 2007. (Callista Gingrich/Gingrich Productions)

They’ve dug up a 1999 article in the Environmental Forum by Michael J. Bean, formerly of the Environmental Defense Fund and now counselor to the assistant secretary for Fish Wildlife and Parks at the Interior Department, titled “The Gingrich That Saved the ESA (Endangered Species Act).”

Bean’s article credited Gingrich’s “singular role in saving the ESA from what seemed an almost certain dismembering” after the GOP won control of Congress in 1994.

Ferocious opposition from timber interests (think spotted owl) , developers, fisherman and GOP lawmakers was almost certainly going to wipe out the law, Bean wrote.

But the enviros got through to Gingrich after they found out he had been a big contributor to the Atlanta Zoo and saw a 1994 Washington Post series about him that included a story of how 10-year-old Newt had led a virtual crusade to persuade city officials in Harrisburg, Pa., to build a zoo.

Gingrich eventually derailed the effort to kill the ESA, infuriating most all his House Republican caucus. Conservatives started going after Gingrich, who found “refuge and solace” in going to zoos, Bean wrote. “Just about every time Gingrich went to a major city for a speech or other event, he made it a point to visit the local zoo.”

Add that experience to the famous global warming television ad with Nancy Pelosi on a couch and you’ve got an implacable GOP opposition to anything Gingrich.

But he’s not backing down. In fact, he’s just put up a Web site which shows various puppies and kittens backing his candidacy and has him at zoos posing with Knut the polar bear, a baby alligator, something that looks like a giant sloth and so forth.