SEATTLE - Two fugitives from the Woodland Park Zoo are safely back in custody Thursday after escaping from the red panda exhibit overnight - but a zoo keeper has some small battle scars to commemorate their recapture.
The adventure unfolded at around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday when an alert worker in the red panda area spotted the twin 6-month-old female cubs scurrying around in an area of their enclosure not visible to the public, said zoo spokesperson Farrah Paul.
The two were playing or fighting on a tree branch above the enclosure when the branch broke and the two landed outside the enclosure.
One of the cubs, named Zeya, scrambled up a tree beside the exhibit. Zoo keepers convinced her to come back down using food at about midnight.
The other cub, named Ila, climbed up a larger nearby tree. She didn't want to come down, so a team of zoo keepers and animal experts monitored her through the overnight hours. They were concerned that she might become startled and fall if they tried to go after her.
By Thursday morning zoo keepers figured Ila was getting hungry for breakfast, so they decided to try and lure her down from the tree with her favorite food - apples.
At around 11:40 a.m. she finally came down - but during the capture a zoo keeper suffered a small bite and some scratches to her hand. The keeper went to Swedish Medical Center's Ballard campus for treatment, in accordance with standard protocol.
Both red panda cubs are now safely back in their enclosure.
Both red pandas are being monitored by their animal care team to ensure their behavior is normal and they did not sustain any injuries. Throughout the incident, the safety of the red pandas was the sole concern, as red pandas pose little threat to people or other animals, zoo officials said.
In a prepared statement, the zoo said exhibits with tall trees and long branches are routinely checked to ensure all animals are safe and unable to leave their habitats. The red panda exhibit is being rechecked as a precaution.
The red pandas were born June 19, 2018, to mom Hazel and dad Yukiko. Zeya, Ila and mom Hazel were introduced to the public outdoor exhibit in November, where they have had had daily access to their outdoor yard as they continue to develop their motor skills and agility, including climbing trees and lying in an elevated hammock.
Red pandas share the name of giant pandas, but more closely resemble raccoons. Recent studies suggest they are closely related to skunks, weasels and raccoons. An endangered species, fewer than 10,000 red pandas remain in their native habitat of bamboo forests in China, the Himalayas and Myanmar, and share part of their range with giant pandas.