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'Pandamonium'! Missing red panda heads back to zoo after capture

June 28, 2013 at 2:05 PM ET

Video: Rusty the red panda, who had last been seen on Sunday evening, was reported missing from the Smithsonian National Zoo Monday morning, sparking an “intensive search” until he was spotted about a mile away in a Washington, D.C., neighborhood. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

After an hours-long panda hunt, Rusty, the red panda who went missing from his exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington D.C., is back home safe and sound. He was found about a mile away from his exhibit, taking a casual stroll in the Adams Morgan neighborhood.

The zoo shared the good news on Twitter Monday afternoon.

"Thank you so much to everyone who helped us look for and find him!" the National Zoo wrote.

Actress Ashley Foughty is among those who got involved. She was on a walk in her neighborhood with her husband and mother when she spotted Rusty and took to Twitter to bring her discovery to the zoo's attention.

She later described her surprise encounter in an interview with NBC's Tom Costello.

"It was pretty amazing!" she said. "I've only ever seen them through fences or glass enclosures."

Rusty made his way for a tree, where he remained until zoo staff could corner and collar him. He will remain in the zoo's clinic until July 4, but staff say he's doing well.

The precise route of Rusty's great escape remains a mystery, though zoo experts say it's very likely he left his exhibit with the help of the tree canopy in his enclosure and bamboo that grows just outside. Zoo staff has since trimmed those trees and all bamboo within five feet of Rusty's exhibit.

"Animal care staff have concluded that it’s likely Rusty got out of his exhibit by climbing across a 'bridge' created by rain-laden trees and bamboo," the zoo wrote in a Facebook post on Friday.

His disappearance was first announced in a series of tweets on Monday afternoon.

Zoo staff saw Rusty after his nightly feeding on Sunday evening. But when keepers went to check on the 1-year-old panda at 6:30 a.m. the next day, he was nowhere to be found.

“They saw our female red panda, Shama, but they did not see Rusty,” zoo spokesperson Jen Zoon told TODAY.com. “They called a code green, which is our normal protocol when an animal goes missing.”

Staff searched the zoo’s trees all morning trying to locate him.

“Red pandas are territorial, arboreal creatures, so he could be very high in the trees or he could be hiding in an area off exhibit,” Zoon said.

Rusty is a fairly new addition to the zoo: He joined his exhibit-mate Shama in mid-June, after traveling from the Lincoln Children’s Zoo in Nebraska.

“On the second day keepers saw the pair sharing space and even spied Shama grooming Rusty — a sign that this duo is doing well already,” the zoo wrote in a blog post.

Not to be confused with the ever-popular black-and-white giant panda, red pandas are much smaller and more fox or raccoon-like than their fellow bamboo-feeders.

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