Rusty the Red Panda -- Once a Daring Escapee -- Settles Down, Becomes a Dad

By Carissa DiMargo
|  Wednesday, Jul 2, 2014  |  Updated 12:17 PM EDT
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    He once famously sneaked out to party in Adams Morgan.

    Now he's a dad of three in the Virginia suburbs.

    It's safe to say that Rusty the Red Panda's seen a lot of changes since his daring escape from the National Zoo captured the nation's attention last year.

    Most notably, he fathered a trio of cubs with mate Shama, the zoo announced Wednesday. The cubs were born June 26 and appear healthy, the zoo said.

    Keepers had been monitoring Shama closely over the past few weeks since her behavior indicated a possible pregnancy. They're keeping watch over the cubs via a closed-circuit camera.

    While Shami's described as "an experienced mother," Rusty is a first-time father.

    Since January, the pair has been living at the Smithsonian's Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia.

    They relocated from the zoo because keepers were worried that the increase in zoo visitors intent on seeing one of those other pandas -- namely, giant panda cub Bao Bao -- could disturb them in their family-making efforts.

    Seems like it a was worthwhile move.

    Before all that, though, it was just Rusty out on his own, looking to live it up in the world. A little more than a year ago, on June 24, 2013, keepers discovered he was missing from his exhibit on the Asia Trail at the zoo.

    After a frantic search, he was found almost a mile away... not by keepers, but a local woman, Ashley Foughty, who spotted Rusty near 20th and Biltmore streets in Adams Morgan. She tweeted pictures of him scampering up an incline, and keepers converged on the scene to get him back home again.

    Despite their famous lineage, Rusty and Shama's three cubs are just the latest red pandas to make their arrivals in recent weeks.

    Two cubs were born May 27 to a pair of first-time parents. Two more cubs were born June 16, but one was was stillborn. The remaining cub is being hand-reared to increase its chances of survival. Another two cubs were born to another set of parents June 18, although one one died shortly after birth. The surviving cub appears to be healthy.

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