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Rusty the red panda missing from Washington's National Zoo

By Paige Gance

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An endangered red panda named Rusty has disappeared from the Smithsonian National Zoo a few weeks after it went on display, the zoo said on Monday.

The raccoon-sized animal was last seen during a feeding at 6 p.m. on Sunday. He was not in his enclosure when keepers when to feed the pandas on Monday morning, the zoo said on its website.

It was unknown whether Rusty escaped his exhibit or was taken.

Zoo spokeswoman Devin Murphy said while red pandas are not dangerous, anyone who spots Rusty should not approach him.

"As with any wild animal, give him his space," Murphy said.

Given red pandas' natural habitat, the missing animal may be resting in a nearby tree, the zoo said on its Facebook page.

Anyone who spots an animal with fox-like fur, a long, banded tail and large, pointed ears atop a white face should keep watching it and call the zoo, it said.

Rusty arrived a few months ago from the Lincoln Children's Zoo in Nebraska and would be a year old in July. He went on display this month.

Rusty was paired with 5-year-old Shama, a female that in 2010 gave birth to the zoo's first red panda cub in 15 years.

Like their cousins the giant panda, red pandas are native to China and have only a brief period once a year to get pregnant, according to the zoo's website. The red panda has seen its numbers reduced to a few thousand through habitat loss.

(Reporting by Paige Gance; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and L Gevirtz)

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