TODAY   |  June 25, 2013

Escaped red panda found walking down DC sidewalk

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.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> on a much lighter note, cure r -- at the national zoo they're breathing easier this morning following a brief escape by rusty the red panda . tom costello is there this morning. what did this critter do?

>> reporter: he had the whole city on edge. rusty is about the size of a raccoon. this is his girlfriend sitting there having breakfast this morning. it was about 7:30 yesterday morning when they realized rusty was gone and the manhunt, or the panda hunt was on. in zoo language it was a code green. an escapee, rusty the red panda was on the run. last seen 6:00 p.m . sunday and no one knew where he was.

>> by 8:00 a.m . we started what i would describe as an intensive search for the animal.

>> reporter: suspect description, thick red fur, long tail with white stripes . a cute white face and far more curious than dangerous. with nets in hand, zoo staffers quickly fanned out across the zoo and into nearby neighborhoods. for hours they searched front yards and bushes, scanned trees and branches. buttre but rusty was nowhere in sight. he was on twitter. soon after news of the escape several fake rusty twitter handles popped up. one user wrote the panda booked a flight to havana with assistance from julian assange. then about 2:15 ashley was talking down the street about a mile from the zoo and suddenly forever them what looked at first like a raccoon, casually walking down the sidewalk, obviously trying to blend in. ashley knew it was no raccoon.

>> what did you think.

>> i thought it was amazing. i have only ever seen them from the distance of zoo fences or glass enclosures.

>> reporter: ashley 's mom called the zoo as rusty took off across the street into a courtyard and finally up a tree. rusty was cornered and soon collared. on a hot day in d.c., he was tired of running.

>> was he calm? did he react.

>> no, he was calm. he's tired though.

>> reporter: as for how he executed this great escape, the zoo has plenty of questions.

>> we'll look at every aspect of the exhibit. we will not let this happen again.

>> reporter: but the suspect isn't talking. we're back out live and that is rusty 's girlfriend sitting there again. the hope is they will make little baby red pandas but that's down the road a little bit. rusty is fine. he spent the night in the clinic and he is hydrated and doing well. nobody knows how he got out. matt, back to you.

>> tom costello. tom, thank you very much. mystery solved. still