In the midst of heavy snowfall in St Martin la Plaine, France, a cunning little critter made a daring escape. Broken branches heavy with snowfall provided a red panda with the perfect opportunity to climb out of his enclosure into a nearby tree.
St Martin la Plaine Zoo, which is located south of Lyon, announced that they had lost one of their red pandas on Facebook on Wednesday, imploring people to look out for him.
“The Red Panda is a mainly night animal, so it spends a good part of its day sleeping in a tree. He is an outstanding climber who is not afraid of altitude, do not hesitate to look up the trees!” they said.
The 3-year-old male red panda was last spotted less than 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the zoo, AP reports, but he has yet to be recaptured. Members of the public have been warned not to get too close or attempt to grab him, as red pandas can be feisty little beasts despite their adorable looks.
“Don't try to catch him, because, even if it's a little harmless animal with plush looks, it has good claws and good teeth!” wrote the zoo.
Bizarrely, this isn’t the first time a red panda has gone on the run. In 2015, snow broke a tree branch in Hangzhou Zoo, China, allowing a trio of red pandas to flee. Two of the animals were recaptured pretty swiftly, but the third spend an impressive 242 days on the lam. This year, a red panda fled Belfast Zoo. After it spent some time “taking in the sights of beautiful Glengormley” it was found and returned to its enclosure.
Despite their moniker, red pandas aren’t closely related to giant pandas. In fact, they’re not bears at all. The species (Ailurus fulgens) is the only living member of its family and genus, and is thought to be related to raccoons, weasels, and skunks. The name panda is thought to be derived from the Nepali word for bamboo, as that’s what the creatures feed on, along with berries and eggs. The giant panda was actually named after the red panda, making red pandas the original panda.
Found in Bhutan, China, Myanmar, India, and Nepal, red pandas are currently listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. Key contributors to their demise include habitat loss, human activity, climate change, and geological events like avalanches and landslides. The wild population of red pandas has declined by 50 percent over the past three generations and this trend is expected to continue.