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June 24, 2013

Missing red panda from National Zoo found in DC

WASHINGTON — A Twitter photo and phone tip from a resident helped animal keepers track down a red panda in a Washington neighborhood Monday after it went missing from the Smithsonian's National Zoo.

The male named Rusty was captured in a tree near a home in the Adams Morgan neighborhood Monday afternoon, said National Zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson. It had traveled across the leafy Rock Creek Park, perhaps crossing a road or under a creek bridge to reach a residential area nearly ¾ of a mile from the zoo.

Senior curator Brandie Smith said animal keepers surrounded the area where he was found and called Rusty's name to calm him before capturing him in a net.

"We just had to approach him carefully," she said. "We are surprised by the distance he was able to cover."

The animal was taken to the zoo's animal hospital for a checkup and will remain there for several days.

How Rusty escaped is still a mystery, though. Zoo officials began reviewing security footage Monday morning to see if there is any evidence of how he escaped or whether he may have been taken by a human and then set loose. No security cameras are pointed directly at the red panda exhibit, though, and the zoo plans to add more cameras.

Curators have cut back several long tree limbs that may have aided the skilled climber with the escape.

"There is no obvious point that Rusty could have gotten out of the enclosure," Smith said, adding that it had held red pandas for years. "We all know that young males like to test boundaries."

Unlike giant pandas, red pandas are not members of the bear family. Red pandas are slightly bigger than a domestic cat and look similar to a raccoon. They are listed as vulnerable in the wild and native to China. Scientists believe about 10,000 of the animals remain.

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