Another day, another unsettling story about Brazil’s hosting of the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. On Monday, a rare Amazon jaguar was shot dead by military forces, after it escaped handlers following a torch ceremony.
The incident took place in Manaus, a city deep inland and far from Rio where most of the Olympic events will take place. The jaguar was killed at a zoo attached to a military training center, even though it had been tranquilized, reportedly because it approached a soldier.
“We made a mistake in permitting the Olympic torch, a symbol of peace and unity, to be exhibited alongside a chained wild animal. This image goes against our beliefs and our values,” the local organizing Olympic committee said in a statement. “We guarantee that there will be no more such incidents at Rio 2016,” it added.
According to Ipaam (via Reuters), the Amazonas state government environmental authority that oversees the use of wild animals, the jaguar, known as Juma, was not officially allowed to participate in the torch ceremony. “No request was made to authorize the participation of the jaguar ‘Juma’ in the event of the Olympic torch,” Ipaam said in a statement.
“Juma was a docile animal used to living among people at the center,” the Brazilian army said in a statement (via the Associated Press). The army said that, when tranquilizers fired by handlers failed to stop the jaguar from approaching a soldier sent into the zoo to recapture it, the animal was shot in the head with a pistol.
Local animal-rights groups questioned the use of the jaguar, as well. “When will people [and institutions] stop with this sick need to show power and control by confining, taming and showcasing wild animals?” Animal Freedom Union, a Rio de Janeiro-based animal rights group, wrote on its Facebook page.
— Marcelo Medici (@marcelomedici) 21 de junio de 2016
Jaguars are the only members of the big-cat Panthera genus, which also includes lions, tigers and leopards, native to the Americas. The Brazilian Olympic team is using a smiling yellow jaguar, named Ginga, as its mascot.
Brazil’s Olympic preparations have been marred by reports of crime involving athletes, major infrastructure problems, poor ticket sales and polluted water, not to mention the country’s overall financial and political turmoil. In addition, some athletes are choosing not to participate in the Games at all, out of concerns about the Zika virus.