Virginia Zoo officials in desperate hunt for missing red panda

Virginia Zoo officials stepped up their search for a missing red panda that was last seen in its enclosure at around 5 p.m. Monday.

Officials said the search began when the 19-month-old red panda, named Sunny, wasn’t found in its enclosure early Tuesday. Officials were hoping that Sunny was still on zoo grounds, but after thorough searches it didn’t turn up.

According to WTKR-TV, staff members tried to setup a trap Wednesday with fruit to try and lure Sunny back into the exhibit. Officials said the male red panda, named Thomas, may have chased Sunny, a female, and knocked it off one of the trees in the exhibit. The zoo said it is red panda mating season and the animals could be extra agitated.

More than a dozen staff members, the Norfolk police and a team of volunteers have been searching for Sunny. The station reported that police were using a geothermal camera to search the zoo grounds.

Red pandas are reddish-brown in color with thick fur and a long tail. While they can be seen on the ground, Red pandas are typically found in trees.

The red panda isn’t necessarily an aggressive animal, but zoo officials warn that anyone who spots it shouldn’t try to touch, feed, or capture the animal.

Sunny has been part of the Virginia Zoo animal family since May 2016. It first lived at Front Royal, the Smithsonian’s Conservative Biology Institute.

Officials urge anyone who sports Sunny to call the zoo at 757-777-7899.