Rusty, red panda, returns to Smithsonian National Zoo

Rusty was last seen at the National Zoo on Sunday evening. Photo: Smithsonian National Zoo

Nearly a day after last being seen at the Smithsonian National Zoo, a young red panda that escaped from its habitat was caught near Adams Morgan Monday afternoon.

National Zoo officials said in a tweet that Rusty, a red panda on loan to Washington from a Nebraska zoo, was captured, crated and was en route back to the zoo grounds.

“When we saw the tail from the back we thought [it was a] raccoon,” says Barb Wagner.

Wagner and her daughter, Ashley Foughty, were walking back from lunch when they saw Rusty.

“I’m thinking what kind of animal is this? And Ashley, who goes to the zoo all the time, immediately goes ‘That’s a red panda!’” Wagner says.

Foughty hadn't yet heard the news about Rusty's escape, but says red pandas are her favorite.

“Seeing one in my neighborhood was certainly not expected,” she says.

She tweeted photos, which helped lead the Washington Humane Society to Rusty in a tree on Biltmore Street. They were then able to get him safely down and took him away.

Just after 1:30 p.m., Foughty captured a picture of Rusty and posted it to Twitter.

Red panda in our neighborhood! 20th NW and Biltmore. Please come save him! @nationalzoo1

— Ashley Foughty (@AshleyFoughty) June 24, 2013

“It was amazing just to see him, but then to be able to help them get him back, it makes me feel so honored,” says Foughty.

Zoo officials said Rusty was last seen at about 6 p.m. Sunday. Keepers discovered that Rusty had disappeared when they went to feed the pandas early Monday morning.

Meanwhile, it was not a normal day at the zoo.

“As we entered the zoo they said they’d had an escapee re panda and if we saw it we were to let them know,” says Susan Paton.

Rusty has only been at the National Zoo for about two weeks. He's less than a year old and came to Washington from the Lincoln Children's Zoo in Nebraska. He lives in the red panda yard on the Asia Trail.

According to Lincoln Children's Zoo officials, Rusty was born last July and has a twin brother, Wayne, who lives in the Bronx Zoo in New York.

John Chapo, the zoo's president, says they're "ecstatic" that Rusty was found safely.

Zoo officials are now trying to figure out if Rusty climbed out of his habitat or if he was let out.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.