Someone stole acrobat Red Panda’s 7-foot tall unicycle, reward offered

Red Panda is an acrobat who uses a 7-foot tall unicycle in her acts that have graced NBA and ACC basketball courts, among other venues. But one important part of her act is suddenly missing.

Someone allegedly stole the acrobat’s giant unicycle at the San Francisco Airport and the acrobat’s agent is offering a $2,000 reward, no questions asked.

The unicycle Rong Niu, 42, uses in her acts where she juggles and balances bowls on her head, disappeared on Jan. 24.

unicycle thief
The San Francisco Police Airport Division released surveillance photos of a man who took a black roller suitcase containing Red Panda's $25,000 unicycle from carousel number five at the airport. San Francisco Police Airport Division

“She’s heartbroken,” her agent, Pat Figley of San Francisco-based Farallon Entertainment, told KTVU on Wednesday. “It’s like her baby was kidnapped. She’s had that unicycle for 30 years.”

Figley said Niu landed at the airport in San Francisco and was waiting for the bag holding the unicycle to come off a conveyor belt in baggage claim. She saw it from a distance, Figley said, but as she was about a dozen feet away, someone “must have grabbed it.”

Figley said it’s possible someone took the bag with the unicycle inside by mistake, and he and Niu are hoping they return it. Figley is working with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office to review surveillance video to try to find the person who took the bag.

Niu was scheduled to perform at UCLA’s game against California the next day, but had to cancel. She’s performed at Duke, N.C. State, UNC and other NCAA basketball games. She’s performed during the ACC and NCAA tournaments, on America’s Got Talent, ESPN and Bleacher Report.

Figley said Niu is performing again, but using a backup unicycle. And it’s just not the same. She performed at UNC’s game against Clemson on Tuesday night.

“She’s doing horribly,” Figley said. “She’s dropping balls. She’s just not used to it. The one that was stolen was custom built for her.”

At UNC’s game Tuesday evening, Niu dropped several plates.

And this isn’t the first time she’s had unicycle trouble. She told Complex last year the unicycle doesn’t always make it through airport security, and added: “It’s almost impossible (to find a backup unicycle).”

Niu was born in the Shanxi Province in China and trained at an art school before joining an acrobatic troupe. She was later recruited by Disney World and worked in the Epcot Center for two years. She’s performed in 30 countries over 33 years and won two Guinness World Records.

Anyone with information about the unicycle is asked to contact Figley at patrick@farallonentertainment.com.