Outrage is growing in China over a video that appears to show mistreatment of two giant panda babies at a famed research facility in Chengdu province.
In the video which has since gone viral, a staff member can be seen “dragging and throwing” the cubs.
The incident has drawn criticism from Chinese netizens, who have raised concerns about animal cruelty.
However, panda keeper Guo Jingpeng defended himself saying the cubs were being violent.
Mr Guo told state news agency Xinhua that what is not shown in the video is that he was bitten during a feeding.
“The cub bit my hand really hard. Its teeth cut into my flesh and my hand started bleeding,” he said, adding that his hand still remained scarred.
“When it tried to bite me again, I pushed it away out of instinct.”
Mr Guo also said he felt he had been wronged by the footage being circulated online this week, which was recorded earlier in July.
“The online community claims we don’t love pandas. But we choose to stay and work here because we love this creature,” he told local media.
“I just want to clarify that the footage showing me “throwing” the panda was a natural reaction.”
Colleagues of Mr Guo told local media that he had since been “criticised and educated” by the facility.
The giant panda is regarded as a symbol of China and is a highly-protected species under the government.
The official panda facility in Chengdu province is dedicated to preserving the species, which is now no longer considered endangered.
‘Pandas look cute but they can be violent’
The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding has responded to the “inappropriate” incident, ordering their staff to treat the pandas “gently”, even if they scratch or bite, according to Xinhua.
“When we first saw the video, we thought the staff members had overreacted even though they meant no harm to the pandas,” Wu Kongju, a panda expert, told Xinhua.
“We hope people can show more understanding towards the panda keepers. Although giant pandas look cute, they are quite strong and can be violent.”
But the controversial interaction caused a stir in China, a nation of fierce and protective panda lovers.
On the popular Sina Weibo micro-blogging site, many called for Mr Guo’s resignation over his “manhandling” of the cubs.
“I don’t care what he has to say, they were just babies,” wrote Loo Jiaying from the capital Beijing.
“It made me so angry to watch him throw a defenceless cub around. If he was so worried about his safety, why wasn’t he wearing protective equipment like gloves?”
Other netizens called it “blatant animal abuse” and voiced anger at the situation.
One Weibo user questioned the whole government facility. “We have always thought that the Chengdu centre was set up to save our national animal. It did great work in the past and made many Chinese people happy with its panda baby pictures,” he wrote.
“This incident has definitely changed my opinion about its operations and objectives.” – BBC