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A picture is worth a thousand words; or, Rusty the Red Panda escapes from the National Zoo

It’s pretty much every performer’s dream to be the focus of a media frenzy (especially for something positive!)…  I got to experience a bit of that this week, in a very unexpected and wonderful way.

Walking home from a family lunch in our neighborhood, about a mile from DC’s National Zoo, we saw an extraordinary animal emerge from some bushes.  I recognized him almost immediately as a red panda – one of my favorite animals at the National Zoo and one I had often admired at our previous home’s wonderful San Diego Zoo.  What I couldn’t figure out is how he could possibly be just a few feet in front of us, alone, strolling down our sidewalk!  

We snapped a few pictures before he retreated to the porch of a large home undergoing renovation.

I knew we needed to notify the zoo, and my first thought was to tweet my photos and tag the zoo.  My mother-in-law also telephoned the zoo, and several minutes after my first tweet, we were able to speak with zoo officials.  Even before our call was connected, several of my friends and numerous strangers had seen my tweet and also notified the zoo!  They dispatched a rescue team immediately and were able to safely recover Rusty! 🙂 Unfortunately, we had to leave the site before they arrived and hope that our panda friend would stay close by – we were headed to the airport to send my husband to Germany, where he’ll be based for several months… which was also the reason we hadn’t heard news about Rusty, for whom the zoo had been searching feverishly since early that morning.

A really simple act on my part sparked alot of interest – we had been the first ones to sight Rusty!  Within minutes, I had multiple requests for interviews, and over the next hour received more than 400 e-mails from other concerned animal lovers and press.

I’m so honored that I was able to assist in a small way with the safe and speedy recovery of the adorable Rusty!  I’m touched and surprised by the many messages and minor hero-status I’ve received as a result!  To all of you who wrote me, to the kind reporters and crews who interviewed me, and to the gracious zoo employees, thank you for your encouraging words and for allowing me to contribute to your stories!

If you’d like to know more, you can find some of the stories here:

TV interviews with Good Morning AmericaTODAYFoxABC (another ABC story here), NBC, and Entertainment Tonight (still trying to find that one online).  So glad my mom was here visiting for all of the excitement!  You’ll see her in most of those videos 🙂

Radio interview with WMAL.

Interviews with The Washington Post (including a front page story!), my hometown paper  The Columbus DispatchLos Angeles TimesWashington City Paper, and E!.

Mentions in The New York Times,  Huffington PostPeopleUSA TodayBuzzFeedCNET, a special story from my former home’s news source Coronado Common Sense, and on ABC News Nightline.

After undergoing some checkups (clean bill of health!), I was invited for a private encounter with Rusty before he returned to the Red Panda exhibit!

It was incredible to get to see him up close and to learn more about these fascinating animals and other incredible conservation work going on. I’m very grateful for the unforgettable experience! I hope you’ll stop by the Smithsonian National Zoo the next time you’re in Washington, DC – admission is free!