National Zoo reveals how red panda escaped enclosure

National Zoo officials believe Rusty the red panda escaped his enclosure with help from low-hanging foliage in his exhibit. (Abby Wood, Smithsonian\'s National Zoo)

WASHINGTON – Rusty, the National Zoo red panda who made headlines earlier in the week for his great escape, apparently managed to leave his enclosure with help of the tree canopy in his exhibit.

Smithsonian National Zoo officials say in a news release that a team of Zoo experts and animal care staff members did a thorough assessment of the red panda enclosure.

They inspected the facility using recent photos 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,” Zoo officials say in a news release.

They say several factors contributed to Rusty’s escape.

Rain last Sunday morning lowered the limbs of the tree in his exhibit which shortened the space between the trees and the edge of the enclosure.

As well, the bamboo on the edge of the exhibit was bent over due to the rain, creating a bridge.

Zoo officials believe that given Rusty’s climbing abilities, he left the exhibit with help of a makeshift bridge created by overlapping tree limbs and bamboo.

Officials did not find any red panda tracks outside the exhibit so they cannot determine the exact route Rusty took.

To prevent any future escapes, the Zoo has done several things to ensure Rusty and the other red panda, Shama, are 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 is returned to the exhibit.
  • All hotwire lines in the enclosure will be assessed, tightened and repaired.
  • All plantings around the enclosure will be re-trimmed and kept at a safe distance from any hotwires.
  • An additional visitor barrier will be added to the upper portion of the exhibit, to create an extra 30-inches of tree-free space.

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