24 June 2013

He climbed the mango tree

While today's news that Rusty the red panda had escaped the National Zoo launched a thousand whistleblower jokes in this company town, it also immediately reminded me of a favourite poem from my childhood.

The spangled pandemonium
Is missing from the zoo.
He bent the bars the barest bit,
And slithered glibly through.

He crawled across the moated wall,
He climbed the mango tree,
And when the keeper scrambled up,
He nipped him in the knee.

To all of you a warning
Not to wander after dark,
Or if you must, make very sure
You stay out of the park.

For the spangled pandemonium
Is missing from the zoo,
And since he nipped his keeper,
He might just as soon nip you!

'The Spangled Pandemonium' is the work of Palmer Brown, a 20th-century American writer about whom I've been able to learn very little beyond the small biography on the NYRB site.  He was a native of Chicago and wrote 5 books for children.  I am not sure which of those books contains 'The Spangled Pandemonium,' or if it was published separately.  I found it first in a classroom reader, probably when I was in third or fourth grade, and memorised it almost instantly.  All these years later, I can still recite it by heart.

Red pandas are arboreal animals, so when news broke that Rusty was missing, I remembered the line about the mango tree.

Rusty the Red Panda
photo from the National Zoo

Fortunately, Rusty has been found and seems to be none the worse for his adventure. Also fortunately, no one seems to have been nipped, in the knee or anywhere else.


  1. A few weeks after I moved to D.C. in 1995, I was home early from work one afternoon when I spotted a bunch of zoo employees (the entrance is just a couple blocks away) racing around the corner while wielding comically large nets. In the days that followed, I scanned the news, but they apparently never even let the public know that something had escaped. Definitely a different world now.

    1. Yes, very different. Apparently the tip that Rusty was in Adams Morgan came via Twitter, with a photo snapped on a cell phone attached.

      In 1995, I had just gotten my first email address, didn't have a cell phone, and was exploring the internet on Lynx.


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