Pictured are Mom Sophia, and twin boys Rusty and Wayne taken not long after the twins birth in the Lincoln Children's Zoo in 2012. Rusty, now almost one and on loan at the National Zoo in Washington, DC somehow escaped from that facility earlier today. He has since been found safe and is returning to the DC zoo. (21605)

What do NSA leaker Edward Snowden and a red panda at the National Zoo in Washington have in common? Absolutely nothing. Except that both mysteriously vanished. And both were the subjects of high-profile searches — at least for a little while, in the case of the panda.

But a little while was all Twitter needed to engage in a flurry of jokes, including the creation of several parody accounts for Rusty, the red panda.

There were a few, tenuous parallels.

Both are male. Both are relatively young — Rusty is 1, Snowden is 28. And both have connections to China: Red pandas are native to southwestern China while Snowden recently traveled to Hong Kong, off southeastern China.

OK, perhaps that last one is a bit of a stretch. But social media transcends all boundaries.

@InvisibleObama tweeted, “Somewhere, Edward Snowden is stroking a Red Panda laughing at us all.”

@BCAppelbaum posted, “Since China won’t hold on to Snowden, we’re going to start releasing panda bears.”

First reported missing at 8 a.m. Monday, Rusty was finally captured around 2:30 p.m. about a mile away from his enclosure, zoo officials posted to Facebook.

The zoo had tweeted several facts about Rusty, warning zoo visitors that he is still a wild animal and would bite if cornered or scared. The search began inside the zoo since red pandas are known to be territorial.

For at least a few hours, Rusty’s whereabouts proved as intriguing to many as Edward Snowden’s.

Snowden made news recently for releasing information about secret surveillance programs conducted by the National Security Administration. He initially fled to Hong Kong. Russian officials confirmed he had flown to Moscow over the weekend. Although WikiLeaks claims to know his exact location, no one else seems sure. His reserved seat aboard a plane to Cuba was reportedly empty.

The United States has publicly announced it is seeking to extradite Snowden on charges of espionage and theft of government property. No such announcement was made regarding Rusty.

“Operation Rusty: Washington engages in another frantic search,” read the headline to the Washington Wire post.

“Now Putin has a Super Bowl ring, Ed Snowden AND a red panda,” tweeted @MicahGrimes. Putin has been accused by the owner of the New England Patriots of taking his Super Bowl ring during a visit.

Although parody accounts have come under fire recently as being unnecessary and lacking humor, @RustyThePanda was undeterred. “Is there bamboo in Ecuador?” it asked. Its Twitter bio also included being a fan of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the Snowden story. Greenwald, presumably busy with other things, had not tweeted anything panda-related at the time of this writing.

Some tweets appeared to confuse red pandas with the black-and-white giant pandas, also called panda bears. Red pandas look more like a cross between a raccoon and a small fox. Both enjoy a good meal of bamboo, however.

This isn’t the first escaped zoo animal to inspire an attention-getting parody account. In 2011 @BronxZoosCobra chronicled the seven-day imagined adventures of the escaped snake. That account amassed 187,533 followers and still tweets. In response to Rusty’s escape it on Monday it posted, “I have an alibi!”

The @NationalZoo account thanked its fans on Twitter and Facebook for helping recover Rusty. No word if @BarackObama will do the same when Snowden is officially located.

Dorrine Mendoza | CNN