KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia’s Wildlife Department defended its use of puppies as live bait to capture black panthers spotted at a Malaysian village after animal rights groups protested the method and appealed to the government to use other means.
The department resorted to using puppies after earlier attempts to lure the panthers with a goat failed. It’s standard procedure to use live animals, Wildlife Department Director General Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim said in remarks published Tuesday, noting that the puppies were not physically harmed in the process.
“In this particular case, there was indication that the panther had attacked dogs (before), so we used the puppies for their barking and scent to attract the panther,” he told the Free Malaysia Today online news portal.
Farmers in a village in southern Negeri Sembilan state were terrified after spotting a panther near their home in September. Villagers lodged a complaint with the Wildlife Department after a panther mauled their dog at a fruit orchard in the state on Sept. 4, according to a Facebook post by Negeri Sembilan Chief Minister Aminuddin Harun.
Aminuddin said the Wildlife Department immediately installed a trap for the big cat, which was believed to have come from a forest reserve nearby. The department managed to trap three panthers on Sept. 18, Sept. 27 and Oct. 1, he said.
The operation, however, sparked controversy after local media reported that puppies were used as live bait to lure the panthers. Malaysian Animal Welfare Association slammed the move as shocking, and said it would have been more ethical for the department to use raw cattle meat. The Animal Care Society also appealed to the government to stop using live animals in such operations.
Abdul Kadir explained that the trap — a cage with a separate compartment to hold the puppies — is able to swiftly release the canines once the panther is caught. He said the pups were unharmed and that officials adhered to operating procedures.
Abdul Kadir did not immediately respond to requests for comment by phone and email.
Wildlife officials in Negeri Sembilan told local media that the first panther caught was a female weighing about 40 kilograms (90 pounds). The department has caught a dozen panthers in the state since the start of the year, including the the three caught in September.
Aminuddin previously said the panthers have been treated and appeared healthy, though he did not say whether they were released back into the forest. He said the Wildlife Department was also conducting aerial investigations using drones to find out why the panthers had strayed into the village.
Black panthers, found in tropical forests in Asia, Africa and Central and South America, are solitary animals that hunt at night and rarely bother people. Conservation researchers said panthers are a protected species and rarely bother people, but they face threats of habitat loss and poaching in Malaysia.
In May, an adult black panther was hit by a car and died after it strayed on to a road from a forest reserve and the driver couldn’t stop in time.