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Smithsonian's National Zoo Red Panda Update

For Release: June 28, 2013

  • Red panda, 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 hopes to return Rusty to his enclosure by July 4.
  • A multi-disciplinary team of Zoo experts, led by Animal Care staff, completed a thorough assessment of the Zoo's red panda enclosure. The review included an inspection of the facility, an examination of recent photos of the enclosure with Rusty, and security footage. Based on that review Zoo staff conclude 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.

Some of the key factors include:

  • 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. 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 next to the red panda exhibit is black bamboo (phllostachys nigra);
  • Black bamboo grown on Zoo grounds is a preferred plant species by red pandas and other animals. Animal Care staff surmise 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 the exact route of Rusty's escape cannot be determined.

Zoo staff has or will take the following actions to ensure Rusty and Shama remain safe in their enclosure:

  • All trees in the enclosure have been trimmed;
  • All bamboo within five feet of the perimeter of the 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 at safe distance from any hotwires;

An additional Visitor barrier will be added to the upper portion of the exhibit where plantings exist currently, to create an additional 30 inches of tree-free space.

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