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French zoo seeks red panda after breakout

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Saint-Étienne (France) (AFP)

A zoo in central France is searching for a runaway red panda which took advantage of heavy snowfall that brought down trees to climb from branch-to-branch out of its enclosure.

The hopes of the zoological park in Saint-Martin-la-Plaine in central France of recovering the furry mammal, which resembles a raccoon, were boosted after a motorist on Wednesday spotted the animal and alerted the police.

The three-year-old male escaped a week ago, "taking advantage of the damage caused by snowfall," the zoo's director Pierre Thivillon told AFP.

Its female partner did not follow it out of the enclosure.

"People who see it must warn us and try not to let it out of sight so that we can capture it," said Thivillon.

The driver spotted the animal some 10 kilometres (six miles) from the zoo but the police and zoo staff have been unable to locate it.

Red pandas are unrelated to the more famous giant pandas. They are not bears and have their own taxonomically unique family called Ailuridae.

The shy creatures spend most of their time in trees and are not considered dangerous.

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