Red Panda Escaped National Zoo via Tree Canopy, Keepers Say

The red panda who escaped from the National Zoo last week likely did so by "climbing across a 'bridge' created by rain-laden trees and bamboo," the zoo said Friday -- and he probably did it for a snack.

Rusty, who took a jaunt to the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C. before he was recaptured Monday, has been kicking back since then at the zoo's animal hospital. Vets say he is in good health and will likely return to his enclosure by July 4.

He has received a rabies booster shot as a precaution.

Rusty was found Monday afternoon after resident Ashley Foughty tweeted an image of him scampering up an incline next to a home at 20th and Biltmore streets NW.

Zookeepers said he escaped either that morning or the previous night, most likely aided by the tree canopy in his habitat: "Rain last Sunday morning lowered the limbs of the trees in his exhibit which shortened the space between the trees and the edge of the enclosure. Additionally, the rain caused the tall bamboo on the exterior perimeter of the exhibit to bend over into the animal area, effectively creating a bridge."

Rain and warm temperatures in the area also created excellent growing conditions for the three trees in the red pandas' enclosure, as well as other plants -- such as tasty-looking bamboo.

"Animal Care staff surmise that Rusty would have been attracted to the nearby bamboo for a treat," the zoo said Friday.

The zoo earlier this week that red pandas are territorial animals, so it would be unusual for Rusty to leave his habitat. "But he is a young male, he is a 1-year-old male, and we all know that young males like to test boundaries," said National Zoo Senior Curator Dr. Brandie Smith.

He is the first animal to go missing from the zoo in recent memory.

The vegetation and around Rusty's enclosure are being "significantly trimmed back before" he returns, the zoo said.

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