The once-lost animal, a male named Rusty, is just less than a year old and has been on exhibit at the zoo for just three weeks, after arriving from Nebraska in April. The precocious escapee had last been seen in his zoo pen Sunday evening and was not there Monday morning, at which time the zoo sounded a “Code Green” alert for a missing zoo animal.
Rusty was believed to be still within the zoo, keeping his summer vacation local and hiding in a tree, zoo staff said. It was considered reasonably unlikely that the red panda had high-tailed it toward the White House to express his thoughts on animal conservationism or skipped the country altogether to China, to holiday with friends there.
“It is most likely that he has not really left the vicinity. He would have to have some very strong motivation to leave the area,” spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson told The Washington Post.
Well, that strong motivation might have been there: a determined bachelor’s last hurrah. The zoo has one other red panda, a female named Shama, and told The Washington Post that it had been planning to breed the two. And the enterprising panda could not have chosen a better neighborhood for its prenuptial jaunt: Adams Morgan, a section of D.C. noted for its young and throbbing club scene.
How the partying red panda escaped is somewhat mystifying. The wires on his cage, which deliver a small electronic shock, were on and functional.
The red panda, which looks something like a mix between a cat, a bear, and a (miniaturized) giant panda, is considered a vulnerable species, with just some 10,000 of them in the world, mostly in China but also in Bhutan and northern Nepal and Myanmar. It is only distantly related to the giant panda and is more closely related to weasels and raccoons.
The zoo’s giant pandas are still in their pens, and are sleeping happily, the zoo said.