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Endangered red panda escapes from Belfast zoo, prompting police appeal

Cub born last summer as part of breeding programme

Tim Wyatt
Monday 28 January 2019 08:56 GMT
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Red pandas are native to the Himalayas and southern China
Red pandas are native to the Himalayas and southern China (iStock)

An endangered red panda has vanished from a zoo in Belfast, police in Northern Ireland have said.

The animal went missing on Sunday and officers said it was “believed to be currently taking in the sights of beautiful Glengormley”, the suburb of Belfast where the zoo is located.

Red pandas, which are between 50 and 64cm long, are not aggressive creatures but can become defensive if they feel cornered.

Police said local drivers should be particularly careful in case the cat-sized animal attempted to cross some of the major roads in the area.

“Our curious friend has not yet learned the green cross code, so if motorists could also be vigilant,” they asked.

The circumstances of the animal's apparent escape were unclear.

When contacted by The Independent, a spokesperson for the zoo said none of the keepers had yet looked into how the creature had managed to free itself.

"All the keepers are out at the moment attempting to find the red panda," she explained.

"At the moment our main priority is finding it, [the escape] will be investigated afterwards."

Since the disappearance was publicised early on Monday morning, members of the public had contacted the zoo with possible sightings.

But none of them had been credible, the spokesperson said, adding that one was believed to have actually been a badger.

Two red panda cubs were born at the zoo in June last year, but only began venturing outside in November.

The pair were born to Chris, a red panda from a Dutch zoo, and Vixen, who came from Dresden Zoo in Germany.

The species is native to the Himalayas and southern China, and is instantly recognisable thanks to its reddish-brown fur and long tail.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the red panda is facing a very high risk of extinction.

The manager of Belfast Zoo, Alyn Cairns, said last year the breeding programme for red pandas was crucial because they were losing their habitat in the wild and being illegally hunted for their fur.

Their bushy tails are also highly prized as a good luck charm for newlywed couples in China.

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“Our mission is to be a major force in conserving and safeguarding habitats and wildlife to make a significant contribution to their survival in the future,” she told the BBC when the cubs were born.

“The twins are therefore not only a cause for celebration for the Belfast Zoo team but for the species as a whole,” she added.

There are believed to be fewer than 20,000 red pandas left alive.

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