ANIMAL rights campaigners have released footage which they claim shows a distressed female giant panda clawing walls to find its wailing cub after they were separated at a zoo.
The clips were taken at the highly respected National Smithsonian’s Zoo in Washington DC earlier this year.
Campaigners say they show Mei Xiang clawing against a wall in a desperate bid to be reunited with her cub, Bei Bei, which can be heard “crying”.
Earlier video shows mother and cub contentedly playing together at the zoo, which is part of the world-famous Smithsonian Instution, which attracted more than 28 million visitors in 2015.
Critics have described the footage as “heartbreaking” and set up a petition to have the pair reunited.
The zoo insisted Bei Bei was ready to be separated from his mother and said it would have been “detrimental” to keep them together.
Bei Bei is the star attraction at the zoo and was an internet sensation even before his birth in August 2015 as people around the world watched his pregnant mother online. There was drama last year when the cub needed emergency surgery to remove undigested bamboo.
Bei Bei was separated from his mother in March, aged 18 months, and placed in his own enclosure.
Zoo visitors recently posted clips which seem to show Mei Xiang frantically trying to get to her cub after hearing him call for her from the other side.
Mei Xiang is standing on her two back legs and clawing at a wall in the zoo while wailing in apparent distress.
Other footage shows Mei Xiang pacing her enclosure in an apparent bid to find her cub.
Images from the zoo’s panda cam appear to show Bei Bei feeding from his mother the day before the pair were separated, despite the zoo saying he had been weaned.
Hundreds of viewers have left comments after watching the videos.
Nan Uhlik said: “So heartbreaking to witness this. Humans have no right to do this to any living animals.
“Poor panda mom. She has to go through this because the zoo made the decision based on profit, monetary gain.
“Panda’s rights as a living soul, as a mother and child, are ruthlessly trampled. What a sad world we live in. I cry for them, for the horrid conduct of our own mankind driven by greed.”
Helen Patel wrote: “Cruel and disgusting. Zoo wrong for this.”
And another viewer said: “Why they can’t be together for a while? They are not ready for this yet. It is heartbreaking.”
The separation and video clips prompted one visitor to set up a petition urging Smithsonian Zoo to reunite the pair.
It has attracted almost 3,000 signatures including support from Sarah Bexell, director of conservation education at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, who signed.
On the Reunite Bei Bei and his mother Mei Xiang Change.org campaign, she said: “I have worked for giant pandas for nearly two decades. Smithsonian may not have a choice in this, but it is something that we must take a stand on.
“There is no need for more captive pandas and this is a gross waste of resources and extreme suffering on the part of all captive giant panda mothers and cubs.
“The U.S. MUST set the best example of humane care of all species, this demonstrates blatant disregard for the natural history and sentience of one of the most public and beloved species on Earth.
“With giant pandas we have the largest reach to teach the public how to care properly for animals in our care.
“Allow Mei Xiang and Bei Bei to separate at the right time for them.”
The petition was also signed by Dr. Kati Loeffler, Veterinarian, DVM, PHD who is the former Director of Animal Health, Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, China.
A spokeswoman for Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute said: “Over several decades, we’ve developed best husbandry practices for giant pandas by working with our Chinese colleagues.
“We start to wean panda cubs once they are no longer dependent on their mother for nutritional needs.
“Bei Bei was ready for the process and has acted as expected.
“Giant pandas live as solitary animals in nature. Since the bears weaned, we have zero concerns about his health and it would be extremely detrimental to house them together.”