Rusty the red panda leaves D.C.


Rusty. (Smithsonian National Zoo/Getty Images)

Rusty the red panda has left the National Zoo again, but zoo officials were actually involved this time around.

You remember Rusty, the red panda who captivated a nation when he escaped from the zoo last year? He wandered, as so many newcomers do, to Adams Morgan, before ultimately being found, captured and returned to the zoo.

Rusty's day in Adams Morgan. (Photo by Ashley Foughty)
Rusty’s day in Adams Morgan. (Photo by Ashley Foughty)

The zoo announced Thursday morning that Rusty and Shama (the zoo’s other, less escape-prone panda) were being moved to the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va. That’s about 70 miles from the spot where Rusty was found wandering in Adams Morgan, so hopefully he opts against any jailbreaks.

The reason for the panda relocation? Another, much larger panda that recently arrived in D.C. The arrival of Bao Bao, the giant panda cub, has drawn additional visitors, which “could have compromised successful breeding” for Rusty and Shama, the zoo said in a statement. (Rusty was brought to the National Zoo from Nebraska to breed with Shama, and the breeding season is between January and March each year, in case you woke up this morning and wondered when red pandas breed.)

To properly enable red panda breeding, Rusty and Shama were taken to a place where they can have “a little extra peace and quiet,” the zoo said. There are three other breeding pairs of red pandas at the facility in Front Royal.


Rusty, left, shown alongside Shama at the zoo last year. (Anedra Edwards/Smithsonian National Zoo)

While the zoo did report that Rusty and Shama are adjusting well to their new environment, the zoo also said that “Rusty immediately began to explore his new enclosure.” As a result, everyone in the Front Royal area should be on constant red panda watch.

Another one or two non-breeding red pandas will be brought to the National Zoo this spring, which means it’s time to start pondering what kind of escape the next red panda has in mind. Perhaps something involving sitting atop Bao Bao and guiding the giant panda through the streets? A reporter can dream.

Of course, we do have to at least consider the possibility that this is all a ruse. Maybe Rusty just found another way to skip town:

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He anchors Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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