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Rusty the Red Panda is a young male red panda that resides in the National Zoo in Washington D.C.
In early June 2013, after spending a month in quarantine, Rusty was introduced to the zoo’s female red panda, Shama, in hopes that the two would mate during their next breeding season in 2014. At 11:51 a.m. on June 24th, 2013, the National Zoo tweeted that Rusty had gone missing and had not been seen since 6 p.m. the night before. Within 24 hours, their tweet had been retweeted more than 3,500 times. A message with additional information about the animal was posted to the National Zoo’s Facebook page, which was shared more than 2,200 times.
We are looking for a missing red panda, a male named Rusty. He was last seen at 6 p.m. last night. pic.twitter.com/JHVB79x8XY— National Zoo (@NationalZoo) June 24, 2013
Within hours of the National Zoo’s tweet, news outlets including Buzzfeed Animals, the Washington Post and Fox News Baltimore began to use the hashtag #FindRusty with descriptions and photos of the panda in hopes someone would spot him. Other Twitter users, including TVLand (shown below), used the hashtag to share humorous images or to suggest places Rusty wanted to see after escaping. According to Topsy Analytics, the hashtag was used more than 1,000 times that day.
What's that— TVLand (@tvland) June 24, 2013
buzzfeed</a>? There's a missing red panda from <a href="https://twitter.com/NationalZoo">NationalZoo We'll get our best friend on the case #findrusty pic.twitter.com/GmIQT553wf
Parody Twitter Accounts
At 12:01 p.m., the first novelty Twitter account for Rusty, @NatlZooRedPanda, was launched, tweeting at the National Zoo asking if they missed him. Within 24 hours, the account gained more than 500 followers. Within half an hour of that account’s creation, @RealRustyPanda also began tweeting from the perspective of the missing animal.
At approximately 1:30 p.m. actress and D.C. resident Ashley Foughty tweeted a photo (shown below) of an animal she assumed to be Rusty. She tweeted a second photo a few minutes later, providing the National Zoo with her location. Dan Singer, a local newspaper intern, documented Rusty’s recovery with several tweets that were later compiled by Buzzfeed. After being captured, he was immediately transported to the zoo’s hospital, where he stayed overnight. As of June 25th, zoo officials are unsure how Rusty was able to escape.
Spotted near 20th and Biltmore near Airy View condos at 1:25. Are you missing this guy??
NationalZoo</a> <a href="http://t.co/v7KulXpNKE">pic.twitter.com/v7KulXpNKE</a></p>— Ashley Foughty (AshleyFoughty) June 24, 2013
News Media Coverage
Discussion of how social media users on Twitter and Facebook banded together to help track down Rusty was featured on a number of news and tech blogs on June 24th and 25th including NPR, Computer World, Cnet, the New York Times and CBC News. Additionally, Mashable featured a number of tweets that compared the red panda’s excursion to whistleblower Edward Snowden‘s similar disappearance after he did not show up for a flight many journalists expected him to be on. The following day, The Washington Post’s free daily newspaper juxtaposed photos of Snowden and Rusty with the captions “lost” and “found” on that day’s cover (shown below).
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The Huffington Post – Rusty, The National Zoo’s Adorable New Red Panda, Makes Debut (PHOTOS)
The Atlantic Wire – Edward Snowden Still Missing as Plane Full of Journalists Lands in Cuba
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