By Brett Zongker
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — A red panda’s escape and wanderings through residential sidewalks and backyards last month has prompted a new plan to inspect trees, bushes and other vegetation around every exhibit at the National Zoo.
An investigation determined Rusty the red panda likely climbed out through the trees in his exhibit. Now the limbs have been cut back, and the zoo has two cameras aimed at the red panda yard around the clock.
According to a zoo report on the escape obtained by the Associated Press following a public records request, the zoo has been investigating and observing Rusty ever since he was found in a nearby Washington neighborhood June 24. The report was filed with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, an accrediting body.
The zoo’s investigation found Rusty likely escaped late June 23 or early June 24 through tree limbs hanging low in his exhibit after a rain. No red panda tracks were found outside the exhibit, the report noted, so the exact route of his escape couldn’t be determined.
Animal keepers have kept watch on Rusty’s activity by day and night as an extra precaution. He returned to his public exhibit July 9 and spent the night outside for the first time Monday night with two keepers on duty to observe his behavior. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, a spokeswoman said.
“We identified and solved the problem that allowed Rusty to get out,” the report noted. As of July 1, “we are confident that the exhibit can contain him.”
The incident prompted the zoo to begin regular checks of all vegetation around enclosures to ensure animal containment is secure. There has been increased trimming throughout the zoo, said spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture sent an inspector to the zoo following the escape, and a copy of the brief inspection report was provided to the AP. On June 27, veterinarian Gloria McFadden found “an appropriate corrective action plan” had been developed following the escape.
Rusty was born in July 2012 at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo in Lincoln, Neb. He was transferred to the National Zoo in April under breeding recommendations from the zoos association. He was moved into his exhibit in June after time in quarantine.