Virginia Zoo Red Panda is Missing from Habitat

12pm friday 2/3

It has been 10 days since Sunny, our Red panda, was discovered missing from her exhibit here at the Virginia Zoo. Our search for Sunny is not over. Our staff and volunteers will continue to work daily with community partners to deploy a variety of tactics in our mission to bring Sunny back safely. Although how she may have disappeared is still unclear, we do know that the natural forest-like environment of Sunny’s Zoo habitat has provided her the agility and skills to survive outside her exhibit. We all know our pandas have become excellent climbers, which could suggest she is engaging in her normal people-watching activities somewhere nearby. Please continue observing your own surroundings, Sunny may not be far away.
Your involvement and support in searching for Sunny strengthen our mission and success and we thank you for your continued concern.
If you have any knowledge of her whereabouts, or think you may have seen her, please call our Hotline at 757-777-7899 and leave a message with detailed information.

10am Monday 1/30

We thank our staff, volunteers, members and the community for the outpour of support in our search for Sunny. We have not given up, and we ask that you do not either! On Saturday and Sunday, we used another drone to survey the area of interest within Zoo grounds, and various locations around the perimeter. One of the ZooCrew Volunteers provided us with a thermal camera that was used several times. And we even have the local Post Offices involved in the search, as their delivery staff is actively engaged while on their routes. All of these efforts have yet to produce any reliable leads; most sightings have been of raccoons and Red foxes, but we ask that you still report any sightings of Sunny to our Hotline at 757-777-7899.

11am, friday 1/27

The Zoo started Friday morning with drone observation of an area of interest behind the Zoo’s Asian animal exhibits. The drone footage is under review. Other areas of the Zoo will be scanned this afternoon.

10AM, FRIDAY 1/27

The search for Sunny will continue internally with ZooCrew volunteers and staff who will build surveillance into their daily activities. The Virginia Zoo will not be organizing additional public search parties at this time, but encourages members of the community to look within their neighborhoods and backyards, checking their own garages and sheds, under porches and in the eves of any outbuildings. We are grateful for the significant efforts put forth by our community to help find Sunny.


Zoo Keepers have set traps around the identified area with grapes and bamboo in hopes to lure Sunny back.


The Newport News Sherrif Department K-9 unit arrived to assist Zoo Staff with the search for Sunny on Zoo grounds with the help of their highly trained dogs. After a thorough search was conducted, we have reason to believe Sunny might still be on Zoo grounds.


Approximately 40 members of the community gathered at the Virginia Zoo to team up with Zoo Staff to canvas the surrounding neighborhoods street by street.

12pm Thursday 1/26
We’ve had such an overwhelming response from the community asking to help with the search for Sunny- now, here’s your chance.
Meet Virginia Zoo staff at the Elephant Statue in front of the Zoo at 1 pm to head to different neighborhoods surrounding the Zoo. A little of your time can go a long way in the mission to bring Sunny home. Thank you in advance for your hard work and efforts!
11am Thursday 1/26

UPDATE: The Virginia Zoo is still looking for our missing Red panda, Sunny. We have responded to many calls regarding sightings of Sunny, but most turned out to be raccoons. We have expanded our search to other nearby neighborhoods and continue to encourage the community to check in the areas within a mile of the Zoo.

We appreciate all of the community’s efforts so far. However, please text, tweet, call or comment only if you have serious information regarding her whereabouts. Providing false information distracts our staff and volunteers from focusing on our search for Sunny.

Why can’t you locate Sunny through her microchip?

Sunny, and all the animals at the Virginia Zoo, have a microchip for identification purposes, however these are not outfitted with GPS capabilities. This would require a collar and a battery-operated device, which would be unfitting for a wild animal. This also poses a danger as the collar could get caught on the natural surroundings of an animal’s exhibit.

Should we leave snacks out for Sunny?

Leaving food and treats out for Sunny could cause lure raccoons and other wild animals, resulting in more false sightings of Sunny. The best thing you can do is search your neighborhood for her, checking any nearby areas with bamboo.


The Virginia Zoo staff and ZooCrew Volunteers have worked diligently today searching for Sunny, our missing Red Panda. St. Mary’s Cemetery, Lafayette Park and the neighborhoods of Lindenwood, Villa Heights and Riverview were scoured for signs of her. We are posting flyers with the Virginia Zoo Hotline number so members of the community can contact us with any information or photos.

We encourage the community to continue their search efforts by thoroughly looking in the trees in their backyards and neighborhoods located within a mile of the Zoo.

If you believe you have seen Sunny, please do not approach her but take a photo immediately and text it to our Hotline number or call with a description of your location. 757-777-7899.

11 am, Wednesday 1/25

How could she have escaped her habitat?

  • It is red panda breeding season. The animals become more agitated and could display a little abnormal or hyperactive behavior.
  • Monday night it was rainy and windy. Sunny may have been on a slippery branch while Thomas, the male red panda, was pursuing her and caused her to slip and fall.
  • The Virginia Zoo’s red panda exhibit is a unique and highly enriching environment for the animals. The habitat features, trees, barriers and other components are in accordance to AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) regulations.

Where to look for Sunny

  • When looking for Sunny, it is better to scan the tree canopy from a distance, rather than walking up to individual trees to search. She will likely position herself to be able to people watch from a mid to high point in a tree or other climbable structure.
  • Red pandas are generally not considered aggressive animals, but like any wild animal its behavior can be unpredictable and you should not try to touch, feed, or capture Sunny yourself.

How far could Sunny have traveled?

  • It is unknown how far Sunny could have traveled, but the neighborhoods surrounding the Zoo up to a mile are being targeted.

What to do if you see Sunny:

  • If spotted, Zoo staff ask that you immediately call the Virginia Zoo hotline at 757-777-7899 and do not try to touch, feed or capture Sunny, but do keep your eyes on the animals at all times if possible while you make your call.
10 am, Wednesday 1/25

The Virginia Zoo is opening at 10 and visitors are welcome to search for Sunny, the missing Red Panda, however it would be more useful for those living within a mile of the Zoo to search their neighborhoods.

ZooCrew Volunteers who would like to help in the search efforts, please report to the Volunteer Coordinator when you arrive to the Zoo.

Exhibit information: Red panda Thomas is in his exhibit in the Asia – Trail of the Tiger. Red panda Timmy has been removed from his exhibit off the main pathway due to pre-scheduled maintenance and landscaping. He will return on Thursday.

9 am, Wednesday 1/25

The Virginia Zoo hotline received a calls on Tuesday evening through Wednesday morning. Staff has been following up on tips and sightings within the neighborhoods surrounding the Zoo, but none turned up useful evidence of a panda presence.

6 pm, Tuesday 1/24

The Virginia Zoo is working with the Norfolk Police Department to use an infrared camera to search the Zoo grounds for Sunny.

5:30 PM, TUESDAY 1/24

Sunny, a 19-month-old Red Panda is missing from her habitat at The Virginia Zoo. Sunny was last seen at 5 p.m. Monday, January 23. On first check of the Red panda habitat on Tuesday morning she was not in her enclosure and a thorough search of the Zoo grounds was immediately started.

Zoo staff are hopeful Sunny is still on Zoo grounds. In the event Sunny has wandered off the property and is spotted in the community, the public is asked to call the Virginia Zoo hotline at 777-7899.

Red pandas are generally not considered aggressive animals, but like any wild animal its behavior can be unpredictable and you should not try to touch, feed, or capture Sunny yourself.

Red pandas are reddish-brown in color, with thick fur and a long tail, and similar in size to a raccoon. They can be seen on the ground, but typically are found in trees.

Sunny came to the Virginia Zoo in May 2016 from Front Royal, the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute.