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Rusty the red panda, known for escaping the National Zoo as a young cub, dies unexpectedly

A red panda who captivated the hearts of Washington D.C. residents and animal lovers nationwide has unexpectedly died, according to the Pueblo Zoo in Colorado.

Rusty the red panda reportedly died on Oct. 14 at 10 years old, the zoo told NPR.

Rusty’s claim to fame took place in June 2013 when he escaped from his habitat at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in D.C. at only 11 months old. 

The search was on for the young cub, and it didn’t take long for reports of Rusty sightings to be called in across the city.

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The panda was eventually found sprawled out in a bush in the Adams Morgan neighborhood approximately six hours after his great escape.

Though Rusty’s adventure around the District was short-lived, his reputation as the beloved “escape artist” followed him for the rest of his life.

In 2019, Rusty moved from the National Zoo’s care to the Pueblo Zoo in Colorado, and zookeepers were warned of the panda’s antics.

“That was definitely a warning that was given to our keepers, that ‘hey he is a little bit of an escape artist so keep your eye out and hopefully his exhibit is covered,'” Sandy Morrison from the Pueblo Zoo told FOX 5 DC. “He just stole everybody’s heart.”

Comments left on the Pueblo Zoo’s Facebook post announcing Rusty’s death proved the panda stole the hearts of many almost 10 years ago.

“My favorite escape artist! RIP Rusty. You brought a lot of joy into a lot of people’s lives,” Rachel Mandal posted.

“DC legend. Run free, Rusty. We will never forget you,” Brian Kulak wrote.

Dozens of other comments reflected the same language, offering condolences to the zoo and its keepers, and calling the panda a “legend.”

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While at the Pueblo Zoo, Rusty became a dad to twins, male Mogwai and female Momo. 

The zoo described him as a “curious, but independent” panda who could often be found stretched out over a log or snacking on bamboo.

“I feel very lucky to have earned his trust and been able to work closely with him over the past years. He was a great ambassador for his species and will be missed by staff and guests alike,” Pueblo Zoo Area Supervisor Bethany Morlind said.

Rusty was born at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo in Nebraska in 2012 and stayed there for about a year before moving to the National Zoo in April 2013.

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