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Health & Science

Red Panda Escapes From Virginia Zoo In Norfolk

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A red panda named Sunny has escaped from the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk. The search is under way as we speak.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In case you aren't familiar with red pandas, don't picture the roly-poly black and white giant pandas chomping on bamboo. These are little guys.

ASHLEY MARS: A red panda can kind of look like a fox, I mean, they're reddish brown in color. They have thick fur. They have large tails that kind of have like a stripe like a raccoon.

SIEGEL: That's Ashley Mars, the marketing manager at the Virginia Zoo. The zookeepers aren't sure how Sunny escaped her enclosure on Monday night, but they have some ideas.

MARS: It is red panda breeding season, so the animals can become a little bit more agitated. And Sunny is in an exhibit with a mate - his name is Thomas - and so he might have been chasing her. And it was raining Monday night in Norfolk, so the branches could have been slippery, and so Sunny may have, you know, fallen out of the tree while Thomas was pursuing her.

SHAPIRO: Sunny is far from the first red panda to disappear from an enclosure, turns out they have a bit of a reputation for escape. Zoos from Germany to Scotland have had red pandas sneak out. One named Rusty escaped from the National Zoo here in Washington a few years ago.

SIEGEL: And Sunny isn't even the first red panda escapee for the Virginia Zoo.

MARS: So in 2007 we had Yin escape, but he didn't leave zoo grounds, and he was found very quickly.

SHAPIRO: So are these little guys escape artists?

MARS: I don't think I'd necessarily say that they're escape artists. They are very playful. You know, you will see them running around their exhibit, but they also enjoy just sleeping on branches and watching people as they walk throughout the zoo.

SIEGEL: Ashley Mars says the Virginia Zoo set up a tip line. They're asking people within a mile of the zoo to keep an eye out. They're hoping Sunny the red panda can get back to sleeping on branches and watching people in her exhibit very soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHITECTURE IN HELSINKI SONG, "ESCAPEE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.