Rusty the red panda, who briefly ran free in D.C. in 2013, has unexpectedly died

Some who were in Washington, D.C., in 2013 are mourning the loss of Rusty the red panda, who captivated the city when he escaped from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo almost a decade ago. He was 10 years old.

He died on Oct. 14. Pueblo Zoo, where he was living, currently does not know the cause of death, Sandy Morrison, marketing and communications manager at Pueblo Zoo, told NPR in an email.

The panda made headlines when he was just 11 months old, in June of 2013. Officials said they think rainfall weighed down some branches in his exhibit, which allowed him to drop to the other side of the enclosure. He was later spotted in D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood by a resident.

“I was walking home from lunch with my family when Rusty sauntered out from some bushes onto the sidewalk ahead of us,” performing artist Ashley Wagner explained in an email to NPR. “He trotted along for a couple of blocks before taking refuge in a fenced-in yard.”

Wagner was able to take some photos of him, and said Twitter seemed like the fastest way to alert the zoo to Rusty’s location. The tweet allowed the zoo to find him and return him to his home.

“In a time of intense headlines (and sometimes overwhelming connection to technology), I think Rusty’s story brought a sense of hope, whimsy, and adventure to all of our lives – and it highlighted the best of what social media can achieve,” Wagner said.

In 2019, he was transferred from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute — where he and another red panda had been relocated for reproductive purposes — to Colorado’s Pueblo Zoo. They successfully mated while there.

The twin cubs, a female named Momo and a male named Mogwai, were born in Aug. 2021. They’re still at Pueblo Zoo, but their mother, Priya, now lives at the Utah Hogle Zoo.

“He was a wonderful ambassador for the species and was a fun, independent panda who formed strong bonds with our Keepers. He will be sorely missed,” Morrison wrote.

The National Zoo has not made a public comment.

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