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Pandas Face Abuse At Infamous Chinese Breeding Center

A new video shows keepers picking up the pandas and throwing them to the ground.

When a video of a cute panda cub goes viral, it can prompt reactions of “ooh” and “aww,” but on Thursday, July 27, something far more troubling surfaced on the internet.

Surveillance footage from the Chengdu Research Base in China, one of the largest panda breeding facilities and a popular tourist destination, revealed what appeared to be physical abuse of two giant panda cubs, Rourou and Manman, at the hands of one of their caretakers.

In the two-minute video, recorded July 12, the giant panda babies eagerly attempt to escape their concrete enclosure, while a member of the staff roughly grabbed, shoved and threw the cubs to the ground. The video has since sparked outrage on social media from animal advocates around the world.

The panda keeper featured in the video, Guo Jingpeng, explained to Chinese state news agency Xinhua that he was feeding the cubs milk when one began to play. "It bit my hand really hard, its teeth cut into the flesh and my hand started bleeding," Jingpeng said. "When it tried to bite me again, I pushed it away out of instinct." Jingpeng claimed the video was edited down from 50 minutes of footage to make his “natural reaction” appear worse — and fellow staffers agreed that this behavior can be an issue with panda cubs.

"When we saw the video, we thought the staff members had overreacted, even though they meant no harm to the pandas," Wu Kongju, a research assistant at the base, told Xinhua. "But we hope people can show more understanding towards the panda keepers, because although giant pandas look cute, they are quite strong and can be violent."

Many commenters across Chinese social media are not buying this explanation, noted the BBC, pointing out that Jingpeng was not wearing any protective gear or gloves when handling the cubs. After an internal investigation, Chengdu Research Base has asked its staff that pandas be treated more “gently” in cases of biting and scratching, reports Xinhua, but has yet to ask Jingpeng to step down.

Panda numbers are on the rise overall. A 2014 census revealed 1,864 giant pandas in the wild, with a total of 2,060 giant pandas alive in the world. As of 2016, the giant panda was moved from "endangered" to "vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)'s Red List of Threatened Species.

Though the giant panda is seen as a national treasure in China and is closely protected by the government, this is far from the first instance of cruelty that pandas face in captive breeding programs. In recent years, giant panda conservation efforts have turned into a multi-million dollar industry, with breeding programs giving little thought to successfully returning pandas to the wild. In facilities such as Chengdu, cubs are regularly taken from their mothers right after birth and raised separately until they are ready to be displayed in a nursery or lent to a foreign zoo at a considerable cost. Adult female pandas are continuously drugged and inseminated, with births seen as a numbers game by the programs.

Though hard to watch, the surveillance footage is just the first step toward revealing the alleged mistreatment pandas face behind closed doors.

Chengdu Research Base did not immediately reply to The Dodo’s request for comment.

Learn more about what you can do to help Giant Pandas here.