The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is in hot water over alleged mistreatment of animals after photos emerged online showing a panda’s eye severely infected by mites.
The photos were posted on January 19 by Weibo user @酵母菌大王, who wrote: “I was so startled that I almost dropped my phone when I went to take a picture of its face.” In the photos, the black patch around the sick panda’s eye is partially white, which is a sign of mite infection, a disease caused by too much exposure to humidity.
According to Global Times, an anonymous staff member at the facility said no more than 10 pandas suffered from the disease.
A travel blogger who goes by Travel Sichuan West (旅游川西 Lǚyóuchuānxī) compiled a slideshow of the diseased pandas, including the likes of:
The base staffer, without revealing when the infection started, also told the newspaper that the infected pandas had received previous treatment, but the medicine didn’t work as expected, and that all the infected pandas have been quarantined and will receive another round of treatment with new medicine.
However, this sorta-official response did little to curb online outrage ignited by the heartbreaking photos, with many panda lovers accusing the facility of exploiting the endangered species for profit, with little regard to the animals’ long-term health.
Menglan 萌兰, a giant panda transferred to the Beijing Zoo in September 2017, was once a casualty of the base’s inadequate care. Last year, visitors of the facility discovered that Menglan looked unhealthy and had foam in his mouth, but the base refused to look into the situation, insisting that the male panda was in good health.
Menglan was later diagnosed with chronic osteomyelitis after some outraged panda lovers reported the case to the local forestry bureau. While the Chengdu breeding center operated on Menglan, its credibility has never fully recovered.
On Menglan’s Weibo page, which was set up and run by his fans, the pinned post is a plea to save his mother, Mengmeng 萌萌, from the base’s cruelty. According to the post, the room that Mengmeng lives in is in poor conditions. With a total area of 20 square meters, the room doesn’t meet the 30-square-meters criteria for a standard panda room. The room also lacks proper soundproof walls and windows to prevent Mengmeng from being disturbed by noise.
Last year, CCTV cameras inside the facility caught two keepers pushing, dragging, and throwing two pandas on the ground. Although the facility’s spokesperson later denied accusations of animal abuse, saying that the two keepers didn’t mean any harm to the pandas and that the violent behavior was an overreaction to the pandas’ biting, internet users were not convinced.
Built in 1987, the base had 176 giant pandas as of January 25, 2017, making it the largest panda base in the world.