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Baby red panda twins escaped Seattle zoo enclosure when tree branch broke, zoo says

Zookeepers at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo recaptured twin baby red pandas that were spotted outside their exhibit after a small branch holding them broke, leaving them outside their enclosure where they climbed up trees.
Zookeepers at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo recaptured twin baby red pandas that were spotted outside their exhibit after a small branch holding them broke, leaving them outside their enclosure where they climbed up trees. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Two baby red pandas at a Seattle zoo were recaptured Thursday after they escaped — accidentally — from their exhibit on Wednesday, zookeepers said.

The twin red pandas were apparently on a small tree branch in their enclosure when the branch broke, tumbling to the ground outside their enclosure and freeing the pair, the Woodland Park Zoo said in a news release.

An animal keeper spotted one of the red pandas around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday“scurrying in a behind-the-scenes service area,” and then realized both were on the loose, zookeepers said.

After that, zookeepers kept an eye on both red pandas, Zeya and Ila, who had climbed into trees near their exhibit. Zeya climbed down at about midnight, zookeepers said.

Ila was a tougher escapee to lure back: She didn’t climb down until 11:40 a.m. on Thursday, when she was coaxed to safety using some apples, her favorite food, zookeepers said.

Animal keepers kept an eye on Ila until she decided to come down — but didn’t try to get her themselves out of fear she’d get scared and lose her footing. Zookeepers said the red pandas, even outside their enclosure, “pose little threat to people or other animals.”

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With the red pandas safely returned to their enclosure, zookeepers said they are watching both animals carefully to make sure they’re unhurt.

“One animal keeper sustained a small bite and scratches to her hand while helping secure Ila,” the news release said.

Zookeepers said they’re making sure the exhibit is secure so the red pandas don’t get out again.

Ila and Zeya, who were born in June, came to the outdoor exhibit in November. The exhibit was inspected before the twins moved in to guard against possible escapes, zookeepers said.

Red pandas are an endangered species, the zoo said: “Fewer than 10,000 red pandas remain in their native habitat of bamboo forests in China, the Himalayas and Myanmar.”

Despite their name, pandas and red pandas aren’t the same or similar species. Raccoons, skunks and weasels are all closer relatives to red pandas, the zoo said.

The twin red pandas were bred as part of the “Red Panda Species Survival Plan, a conservation breeding program across accredited zoos to help ensure a healthy, self-sustaining population of red pandas,” the zoo said in a November news release announcing their debut at the exhibit.

Snow came on November 15 to the Washington area for the first time this season, and the Smithsonian National Zoo’s resident giant panda, Bei Bei, took full advantage of the white stuff.

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