WASHINGTON (WJZ) — Escape from the zoo. A rare red panda goes missing from the National Zoo in Washington D.C., and leads zookeepers on a chase through nearby neighborhoods.

Kai Jackson explains how Twitter played a key role in the search.

The wayward red panda has been returned to its natural habitat, safe and sound. The National Zoo in Washington is crediting social media with putting an end to the panda’s adventures.

As critters go, this one is relatively small, but don’t be fooled. Rusty is one popular red panda.

And when the National Zoo discovered the little guy escaped, it was a big deal, and the panda hunt in Washington D.C. began.

“They’re not aggressive animals. They’re probably more frightened than we are,” said Brandie Smith, senior zookeeper.

The zoo says Rusty, a male, escaped some time Monday morning. The zoo turned to the citizens of Washington and social media for help. A Twitter timeline with Rusty spottings tracked the panda’s movements.

The response was overwhelming, and within hours, zookeepers cornered and captured the red panda in a neighborhood in Adams Morgan.

“We were able to walk up to him. We sent the keepers with which he is most familiar,” Smith said.

“So the keepers called his name, he was familiar to them. They calmed him down. We were able to approach him with a net. Captured him in a net,” she continued.

Red pandas aren’t in the bear family, but they are tree dwellers and excellent climbers. It’s suspected, but not definitive, that Rusty may have avoided the electric fence in his habitat and escaped using a low hanging branch.

“Well, we don’t know right now in all honesty. Complete honesty, we do not know. That habitat has housed red pandas for several years,” said Pamela Baker-Masson, spokeswoman. “No one has escaped from it before.”

Veterinarians are now examining Rusty to make sure he’s okay and he wasn’t hurt during his adventures. They say the biggest danger to him would have been had he eaten something other than the bamboo he normally eats.

Red pandas are listed as a vulnerable species.


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