US zoo recovers missing red panda

The National Zoo in Washington recovered one of its racoon-like red pandas Monday, a few hours after its mysterious disappearance prompted an all-points bulletin on Twitter.

Rusty, a male, was last seen Sunday evening at the popular Smithsonian-run zoological park, where staff combed trees Monday morning in search of the missing critter.

"He could be sick and hiding or someone could have taken him," the zoo said on its @NationalZoo Twitter feed, where it urged the public to call immediately if they spot Rusty.

"Red pandas typically spend the warm daytime hours resting, so it's likely Rusty is somewhere in or near the Zoo hiding in a tree... Remember: red pandas are wild animals and will bite if cornered or scared."

But a few hours later, the zoo announced -- also via Twitter, but without giving specifics -- that Rusty had been recovered and was "headed safely back" in a crate to his quarters.

"Thank you so much to everyone who helped us look for and find him!"

On its website (, the zoo said Rusty -- who turns one year old in July -- settled into its Asia Trail exhibit earlier this month to breed with female red panda Shama.

Not to confused with the National Zoo's giant panda bears from China, red pandas are small tree-dwelling mammals native to the Himalayas and southwestern China. Their name is derived from their reddish-brown fur.

Rusty came to the National Zoo from the Lincoln Children's Zoo in Nebraska.

In June 2010 Shama gave birth to the first red panda cub born at the National Zoo in 15 years. Sadly it died after three weeks, for reasons that were not immediately known.