US & Canada

Lovelorn red panda escapes from Virginia Zoo

Sunny, in her enclosure Image copyright Virginia Zoo
Image caption Sunny, a 19-month-old red panda, has been missing since Monday

Zoo officials say that a female red panda named Sunny has been missing from its enclosure since Monday afternoon.

Norfolk police are helping workers at the Virginia Zoo using a "geothermal camera" to search the grounds for her, officials said on Wednesday.

People living near the zoo have been asked to keep an eye out for the reddish-brown mammal.

Zoo director Greg Bockheim told the Virginian-Pilot newspaper love may have driven 19-month-old Sunny to run away.

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Media captionRed pandas have a natural love for snow and cold weather

"This is panda breeding season, so the animals become a bit more agitated," Mr Bockheim said.

"We're super hopeful we'll find her today," he added.

Officials are hopeful that she may still be on zoo grounds.

"Red pandas are generally not considered aggressive animals, but like any wild animal its behavior can be unpredictable and you should not try to touch, feed, or capture Sunny yourself," zoo officials said in a statement.

The zoo asks that the public call their hotline if they spot Sunny.

Image copyright Virginia Zoo

One neighbour told local news that she plans to follow that advice.

"The panda's probably scared himself," Lazara Jorrin told CBS News. "This is new to him, so we don't know how he'll react."

Red pandas - which are native to China and the Himalayas - have been known to escape zoo enclosures in the past.

Rusty the red panda escaped from the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington DC in 2013 and was later found roaming the streets.

In 2007, the same Virginia Zoo lost sight of another red panda named Yin before discovering it in a nearby tree.

And in 2009 a red panda escaped from the London Zoo and was discovered on a park bench in Regent's Park in the early hours.

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption In 2013, an escaped Red Panda was rescued when Twitter users spotted him roaming the streets of Washington DC

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