For 24 hours, maybe longer, red panda Kora was on the lam.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium said the naturally shy, nocturnal animal wasn’t in her enclosure on Wednesday morning. She was last confirmed there, with her two cubs, Tuesday evening.
The search was on throughout the Asia Quest habitat and those all around the facility for the fluffy, raccoon-sized 19-pound animal. The den camera and security footage was scoured for clues, but there was no trace of her.
Did she escape? Was she taken? Meanwhile, her still-nursing cubs were given special formula.
“Kora isn’t a threat to the public, but we—and her cubs—really want her to return home,” the zoo said in a desperate public call for help.
The zoo had some theories.
“Red pandas are excellent climbers and live in trees. They use natural shelters like tree hollows to den and sleep during the day. As there were strong storms overnight, team members searched the habitat to determine whether any tree branches were bent or broken, leading to the public pathways,” the zoo said. “One area of branches slightly sagging due to rainwater was trimmed back as an added precaution to ensure that the male panda safely remains within the habitat.”
And then, at 4:43 pm Thursday, the zoo got the break they were looking for.
“Kora was spotted by two guests who noticed her on the ground among dense foliage between the rhino habitat and the entrance of the Pachyderm Building in the Zoo’s Asia Quest region,” the zoo explained.
She wasn’t all that far from her habitat and her two cubs.
But when zookeepers arrived, Kora climbed high in a bid to make her second escape — or just a break from two needy cubs.
“In attempt to coax her down, the team brought her favorite treats and, when that did not work, they carefully brought out her vocalizing cubs,” the zoo said. “While she was attentive to their sounds and moved toward them, she remained in the tree just above the rooftop of the Pachyderm Building.”
But none of it worked and rain clouds were approaching.
Officials decided to tranquilize her.
Red panda Kora is home safe and sound! Two guests spotted her in the Asia Quest region and alerted Zoo staff. Due to approaching rain clouds, the team decided to tranquilize her. She was evaluated at Animal Health and will soon be reunited with her cubs! https://t.co/INFrkt8sB2 pic.twitter.com/dddFuD6BD0— Columbus Zoo (@ColumbusZoo) July 23, 2020
“She was asleep just six minutes later and at 5:56 p.m., she fell 10 feet into the waiting net of the response team,” the zoo said.
There was some clapping and tears.
The sleeping animal was placed in a crate and taken for a vet check. She was given a clean bill of health to be reunited with her cubs when she wakes up.
And when she did, Kora promptly began grooming her cubs. She also nursed them. Dad — General Tso — was also on foot with the family.
Kora and her cubs were reunited this morning and all are doing well! Upon entering the den, Kora immediately began grooming her cubs and nursing was observed. General Tso, the father of the cubs, joined them this afternoon. Thank you for the wonderful outpouring of support! pic.twitter.com/UG8eBkeVIc— Columbus Zoo (@ColumbusZoo) July 24, 2020
A happy ending, though the mystery of how — or why — she left is still not quite solved.
“The Columbus Zoo thanks our community members for the wonderful outpouring of support and offers of assistance while Kora was missing,” the zoo added.
Only Kora knows.