Rusty the panda is expected to go back to his exhibit on July 4. He is doing well (Abby Wood, Smithsonian's National Zoo)
WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Smithsonian's National Zoo issued an update on red panda (and escape artist) Rusty on Friday afternoon that solves most of the mystery regarding how Rusty got out of his exhibit at the zoo. You may remember the frantic hunt followed by tweets pleading for officials to come get him from an Adams Morgan neighborhood from last week (if not, see the photos here).
Zoo officials say in a press release that zoo experts took a closer look at the red panda enclosure, including an inspection of the facility, an examination of photos of the enclosure with Rusty, and security footage. They concluded 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," according to the press release. They say rain from Sunday morning lowered the limbs enough to decrease the space between the limbs and edge of the enclosure, as well as causing tall bamboo outside to lean over into the animal area. Basically, zoo officials say, Rusty had a bridge to walk outside and he took it. They also say he "may have been attacted to the nearby bamboo for a treat."
The zoo staff devised a plan to keep Rusty (and companion Shama) inside their enclosure. So far, staff have trimmed trees in teh enclosure. They also plan to cut or transplant bamboo close to the exhibit, make any necessary changes to hotwire lines inside the enclosure, re-trim plants around the enclosure, and add another visitor barrier to the top part of the exhibit to add more than two feet of "tree-free space."
It looks like Rusty the Red Panda's Great Adventure has come to an end.
As for Rusty, he is in good health after getting a rabies booster vaccination, say zoo officials, and he will stay at the animal hospital until he can hopefully return to his enclosure by July 4.