Red pandas have historically lived in the shadow of giant pandas, but they were actually the first of the two species to be discovered, and to be called "panda." In the past, red pandas have been classified with the bear family (which includes giant pandas) and with procyonids (a family that includes raccoons). Today, they are classified as the sole species in family Ailuridae.
Red pandas are engaging, bamboo-eating animals that resemble raccoons and share parts of their Asian habitats with giant pandas. Although not "giant," the red panda is an endangered species that also deserves scientific and conservation attention, as well as wider recognition among the public.
Red pandas have striking red coats and reddish-brown tear marks from the eyes to the corner of the mouth. They are especially vibrant during winter time: As their coats redden and thicken, they become easily visible on even the coldest January day.
Rusty is now back in his exhibit on Asia Trail with Shama. The first thing that got his attention was the fruit and bamboo. Next he engaged Shama in typical play behavior. Curious Rusty followed Shama when she went back to her off-exhibit area and then back out again.
Rusty continues to eat, drink, and behave normally. He’s been happy to interact with the animal care team, and his keepers who visited him regularly at the vet hospital.
The trees and plants in and around the enclosure have been trimmed significantly, the hotwire in the exhibit has been assessed and augmented where necessary, and an additional wall has been built next to the upper part of the viewer balcony. Animal care staff will continue to monitor Rusty and the exhibit.
Rusty will remain in his temporary holding enclosure until next week. Modifications to his habitat are underway. He has been given access to extra space and new climbing structures while at the hospital.
Our veterinarians report that he is healthy and doing well. The vets and his keepers are continuing his regular care and training routine.
Rusty continues to do well, and Zoo veterinarians have confirmed that he is in good health following his rabies booster vaccination. He will remain at the hospital, but Animal Care Staff hope to return Rusty to his enclosure before July 4.
A multidisciplinary team of Zoo experts, led by animal care staff, completed a thorough assessment of the Zoo’s red panda enclosure. The review included a thorough inspection of the facility and a review of recent photos and videos of the enclosure and, and security footage. Based on that review, Zoo staff conclude that it is highly likely that Rusty left his enclosure during the night of Sunday, June 23 or early morning Monday, June 24 through the tree canopy in his exhibit.
Rain last Sunday morning June 23 lowered the limbs of the trees in the red panda exhibit, shortening the distance between the trees and the edge of the enclosure. The rain also caused the tall bamboo on the exterior perimeter of the exhibit to bend over into the animal enclosure area, effectively creating a bridge. Because of his climbing ability and agility, it is likely that Rusty was able to traverse out of the exhibit due to the bridge created by overlapping tree limbs and bamboo.
The rain and temperatures in the DC metropolitan area have created excellent growing conditions for bamboo and other plants. There are three trees in the enclosure: two honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) and one amur cork tree (Phellodendron amurense). The bamboo growing along the perimeter of the Asia Trail exhibit is black bamboo (Phllostachys nigra).
Black bamboo grown on Zoo grounds is a preferred plant species used to feed the red pandas and other animals. Animal care staff suspect that Rusty would have been attracted to the nearby bamboo for a treat. No red panda tracks were found outside of the red panda exhibit, so we can’t determine Rusty’s exact escape route.
Zoo staff is also taking the following actions to ensure Rusty and Shama remain safe in their enclosure.
All the trees in the enclosure have been trimmed. All bamboo within five feet of the red panda exhibit will be cut or transplanted before Rusty returns to the exhibit. All hotwire lines throughout the enclosure will be assessed, tightened, and if necessary, repaired or upgraded. All plantings around the enclosure will be re-trimmed and kept safe distance away from hotwires. An additional barrier will be added to the upper portion of the exhibit where plantings are currently, to create an additional 30 inches of bamboo- and tree-free space.
We’re confident these steps will ensure Rusty stays in his enclosure in the future!
Photo by Abby Wood, Smithsonian's National Zoo
Rusty's rabies booster vaccine went well this afternoon! Animal care staff rewarded him with one of his favorite snacks: almost half of an apple.
Photo by Abby Wood, Smithsonian's National Zoo
Animal care staff reports that Rusty is doing "great," and vets continue to monitor his health. Today he will receive a rabies booster vaccination and will remain in the hospital. Staff continue to assess the red panda enclosure.
Rusty again did very well overnight. He is eating and drinking normally. Today, our animal care team will be talking about next steps for Rusty.
Rusty is still at our vet hospital this morning after his escapade yesterday. He rested well last night, and is bright and alert this morning. He's eating and drinking normally.
We're still not sure how he got out, though we continue to investigate that question.
Rusty the red panda has been found! Thanks to help from our alert Twitter followers, animal care staff were able to locate Rusty in an Adams Morgan neighborhood, recover him, and return him safely to the Smithsonian's National Zoo this afternoon. He is doing well, and is going to stay at our Department of Animal Health for a few days.
Animal care staff is still unsure how Rusty got out of his enclosure and ended up in Adams Morgan. They are investigating this issue, as well as doing a complete assessment of the red panda exhibit on Asia Trail.
We will keep you updated and let you know how Rusty is doing as we get more information!
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is missing a red panda, a male named Rusty. He was not in his exhibit this morning when keepers went in to feed the red pandas, and we are not sure how long he has been missing. He was fed and cared for last night at 6 p.m.
Red pandas are arboreal, territorial animals. They prefer to stick very close to their home range, which in Rusty’s case is his exhibit. Red pandas typically spend the warm daytime hours resting or sleeping up in trees. Most likely, Rusty is napping in a tree somewhere in or very close to the Zoo. Animal care staff is carefully combing the trees around Asia Trail and the upper half of the Zoo.
However, there is a chance that he’s gone further afield, either because he is sick or scared. It’s also possible that someone has taken him.
We’re asking for your help in keeping an eye out for Rusty. But remember that red pandas are wild animals. They bite when cornered or scared, and even ours are not used to being held or picked up.
If you do see Rusty, don’t attempt to approach or trap him. Stay where you can safely keep an eye on him and call 202.633.4888 and alert the Zoo immediately. Try to keep him in your line of sight until Zoo officials arrive.
Red pandas have the same fire-red fur as a fox, with a long, banded tail. They have white faces with large, pointed ears, and weigh about ten pounds.
If you stop by the red panda habitat on Asia Trail, you may notice something new: TWO red pandas! Shama has been joined by a new male red panda, Rusty. Her previous mate Tate left last fall to be paired for breeding with a red panda at the Erie Zoo.
Rusty comes to us from the Lincoln Children’s Zoo in Nebraska. He turns one year old in July, and the Species Survival Plan has paired him with Shama for breeding. (Red panda breeding season takes place between January and March each year.)
After a 30-day quarantine period, keepers released him into the red panda exhibit on Asia Trail on early last week. The introduction between Rusty and Shama went smoothly, just as keepers expected. Rusty approached Shama curiously and Shama postured so Rusty would know she was in charge. Other than short interactions the pair remained separate for most of that first day.
On the second day keepers saw the pair sharing space and even spied Shama grooming Rusty—a sign that this duo is doing well already.
You can see Rusty and Shama every day in the red panda yard on Asia Trail, next to the Panda House. If you don’t see them in the yard they may be soaking up a few minutes of cool air conditioning in their off-exhibit area.
You'll be able to recognize Rusty by the blond coloration on his hips and tail!
Rusty (left) and Shama