Rusty the red panda is back in exhibit at Washington zoo

2:35 PM, Jul 9, 2013   |    comments
Andera Edwards, Smithsonian's National Zoo
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by Meta Pettus, WUSA-TV, Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON - Rusty the red panda returned Tuesday to his perch at Smithsonian's National Zoo with a little less greenery in and around his exhibit.

Rusty, who turns 1 year old sometime this month, escaped late June 23 or early June 24 from his enclosure in the zoo's Asia Trail exhibit for hours of exploration in and around the area. Officials say he climbed through the treetops to scale a fence and electric wires designed to keep the animals inside.

A District of Columbia resident and her family saw the little guy - red pandas typically grow to the size of a 7- to 14-pound house cat - sitting on a bush in the nearby Adams Morgan neighborhood, tweeted his picture and notified zoo officials. Zoo officials picked him up the afternoon of June 24 without incident, and he has been at the zoo's veterinary hospital being evaluated since his adventure.

Ashley Foughty, who tweeted the initial picture of Rusty in Adams Morgan, was able to visit him at the zoo's vet hospital last week before he was released back into his exhibit Tuesday.

"The first thing that got his attention was the fruit and bamboo," National Zoo officials said Tuesday on their website after Rusty was reintroduced to his habitat.

Rusty arrived in May from Lincoln Children's Zoo in Nebraska and previously had been released into his exhibit in early June after being quarantined for 30 days. He is being paired with Shama, an older female red panda that zoo officials hope will breed with him.

"He engaged Shama in typical play behavior," zoo officials said. "Curious Rusty followed Shama when she went back to her off-exhibit area and then back out again."

Officials had said that Rusty, one of an endangered species that number fewer than 10,000 worldwide, would return to the Asia Trail exhibit by Independence Day but delayed his return so they could significantly trim the trees and plants near his enclosure. They also added to the electric fencing around his habitat and built and additional wall next to the upper part of the viewer balcony.

In the wild, the average lifespan of a red panda is about 8 years, according to National Geographic. So Rusty is an adolescent. Red pandas are distantly related to black and white giant pandas and have a tail reminiscent of a raccoon.

Like giant pandas, they like to eat bamboo, berries, blossoms and bird eggs. Red pandas live in the mountains of Nepal; northern Myanmar, also known as Burma; and central China, spending most of their lives including sleeping in trees. They are most active at night.

Copyright 2013USA TODAY

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