An airport thief stole the primary piece of equipment Red Panda Acrobat uses to entertain audiences at shows across the country.
Red Panda Acrobat, whose real name is Rong Niu, was waiting at the baggage claim of San Francisco International Airport on Jan. 24 when a bag containing her custom 7-foot unicycle was stolen, according to KTVU. It’s the primary piece of equipment she uses for her halftime performances for the Golden State Warriors and other sports teams.
Pictures of the thief were released by police on Jan. 31. Security cams captured an image of a man with red hair, a beard, and ponytail with Niu’s unicycle on an airport cart.
“She’s heartbroken,” her agent, Pat Figley of Farallon Entertainment, told KTVU. ”It’s like her baby was kidnapped. She’s had that unicycle for 30 years.”
Figley told KTVU that Niu saw the bag from about 10-15 feet away on the baggage claim conveyor belt before it disappeared. Figley acknowledged that taking the bag could have been a mistake, even though it has yet to be returned after more than a week.
Niu was forced to cancel a performance at UCLA the day after the theft. Figley is offering $2,000 for anybody who turns in the unicycle. Niu has since attempted to perform on a backup unicycle, but with limited success.
“She’s doing horribly,” Figley said, via KTVU. “She’s dropping bowls. She’s just not used to it. The one that was stolen was custom built for her.”
News of the theft was posted on many sports blogs and sports news sites. Besides her pro and college sports halftime shows, Red Panda Acrobat performed for sports networks ESPN and “Bleacher Report,” as well as for “America’s Got Talent,” according to KTVU.
Sports blog Deadspin wrote that Niu is a native of Shanxi, China, and “Red Panda is by far one of the best basketball halftime acts.” YouTube videos from countless sports arenas across the country show her catching bowls on her head while riding the giant unicycle with one foot, kicking bowls upward with the other.
Sports reporter Michael Grady posted a poll on Twitter regarding the crime.
“How should the person who stole Red Panda’s unicycle be punished?”
He then offers these three options:
“Life in prison,” “Prison for life,” “A life sentence in prison.”