The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding staff members have been accused of mistreating their wards after a video was posted online showing two workers seemingly doing so in China's Sichuan Province, the state news agency reported.
The two-minute video showed a collage of clips in which two workers were seen dragging and hurling around two pandas in a contained area. The two pandas are said to be popular as Rourou and Manman.
"The video has fuelled heated discussion and many are outraged by the mistreatment of the animals, seen as national treasures of China," Xinhua reported.
The agency cited one of the keepers involved as saying that a panda suddenly became violent as he was feeding the cubs. "It bit my hand really hard, its teeth cut into the flesh and my hand started bleeding," Guo Jingpeng said. "When it tried to bite me again, I pushed it away out of instinct."
Guo added that he felt wronged by the video. Reportedly, the clip had been edited down from its original span of 50 minutes.
An official from the facility, which Xinhua spoke to, have defended the keepers and said that pandas can become violent, despite "looking cute".
"When we saw the video, we thought the staff members had overreacted, even though they meant no harm to the pandas," expert Wu Kongju 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."
In response to this incident, Humane Society International's China policy expert Dr. Peter Li said: "The action of this panda keeper is hard to defend and so it is good to see that the Chengdu facility has not tried to do so. Pandas are wild animals and so anyone working with them should be properly trained so that they can interact with them without resorting to the kind of rough handling that we see in the video."
Li added that "dragging and throwing any animal is unacceptable", however, he pointed out that this is not the only problem at the Chengdu research facility.
"Chengdu should cease its panda-petting visitor programmme where cubs are used as selfie photo props. This is not only distressing for the cubs, but also sends the wrong message to visitors that pandas as toy-like creatures for amusement. The centre's artificial breeding programme has largely existed to satisfy demand for pandas in captive wildlife displays; its contribution to the stability of the panda population in the wild is yet to be confirmed and certainly not many pandas from this facility have been released to the wild," he added further.