Love may have driven away a 19-month-old red panda from the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk, but zoo staff are hoping she won’t be the one who got away.
Sunny the red panda slipped out of her enclosure sometime after 5 p.m. on Monday.
“This is panda breeding season, so the animals become a bit more agitated,” said Virginia Zoo executive director Greg Bockheim. “The night it did get out, it may have been on a slippery branch, the male pursing the female in a courtship.”
Red panda’s aren’t aggressive or dangerous animals, but Bockheim said they’ve seen some of the Virginia Zoo’s pandas get snippy with one another.
“In one case we had an agitated female who when she had cubs, would push the male off a limb,” Bockheim said.
The Virginia Zoo is pulling out all the stops to find Sunny, who’s gotten international attention with her great escape.
On Tuesday, the Norfolk Police Department brought a geothermal camera out to help search the zoo grounds, said zoo director Greg Bockheim, which he said was helpful to sweep likely hiding spots on the zoo grounds.
Now, the search has expanded to the neighborhoods immediately surrounding the zoo. Bockheim had been manning the zoo’s hotline all Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, cruising nearby neighborhoods after tips came in.
Red panda’s have gotten out before – the Virginian-Pilot archives show an instance where a 1-year-old red panda named Yin got over the wall of the enclosure on the day of her debut at the zoo in June 2007.
The nature of the enclosure, with mature trees for the pandas to climb and a low wall, makes it possible for them to break out.
But Bockheim said they’ve never had a panda leave the property.
“We’re super hopeful we’ll find her today,” Bockheim said.
Red pandas are small and squat, about the size of a raccoon and reddish-brown. They’ve got thick fur and a long tail and spent most of their time up in trees.
Red pandas are generally not considered aggressive animals, but zoo staff warn that Sunny is still a wild animal and her behavior could be unpredictable.
This story originally appeared on PilotOnline.com.