SINGAPORE - Animal welfare authorities are investigating an incident in which two employees of a pest control company allegedly mistreated a snake.
The incident, which has angered wildlife groups, came to light last week when two videos of men handling a python were uploaded onto Facebook, before later being taken down.
In one video, a man wearing a PestBusters uniform lifts a sack containing a python and throws in on the ground. A second man is then seen stepping on the reptile and using a clamp to try to trap the snake's head, but this failed to work.
At least two other men are heard talking and laughing in the background as the incident unfolds.
In the other video, the second man finally catches the snake with the clamp, picks it up with his hands and throws it to the ground.
The snake appears listless throughout the incident.
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) told The Straits Times on Monday (March 11) that it is investigating the case. A spokesman said: "AVA has issued a set of guidelines on the proper handling of snakes to all pest control and wildlife management agencies in Singapore.
"For example, snakes should not be unduly harmed by the persons handling it and appropriate equipment should be used to catch them."
PestBusters technical director Eugene Surendra said on Monday that the firm is investigating the incident, which likely occurred "quite some years back".
He said the staff member filmed in the video was wearing a shirt that indicated he was a junior employee but he is now a senior member of the team.
Mr Eugene said the incident occurred when senior staff members wanted to show junior employees how to trap a snake.
"I don't think there will be any punishment meted out because they (the senior staff) were using their own initiative to train the younger guys in handling a snake, and probably this guy was a bit scared," he added.
"Snakes are hardy animals... To a layman it may seem cruel, but we are not holding the snakes to the ground and hitting them on the head."
A former PestBusters employee who declined to be named told The Straits Times that the company used to keep larger-sized pythons it caught for about a week to practice trapping techniques before releasing them back into the wild.
He added that the pythons were fed and would be allowed to rest once they displayed signs of lethargy.
Mr Eugene said the practice now would be to keep captured pythons overnight before releasing them.
The witness who took the videos refuted the Pestbusters claim that the incident took place years ago, claiming that it happened just last Thursday (March 7).
The witness also alleged that there were several other PestBusters operators who took turns to throw the snake onto the ground before trapping it again.
The incident has angered the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) and the Herpetological Society of Singapore (HSS).
Acres deputy chief executive Kalai Vanan said: "The handling is wrong, cruel and extremely disturbing.
"How can a pest control company be holding on to a wild animal protected by law, just like an otter or a pangolin, and use it for training and throw it around like a piece of rubbish? Where is this poor snake now?"
He called for the authorities to take action as the incident was a "serious case of animal cruelty".
HSS co-founder Sankar Ananthanarayanan added: "It's clear from the video that the python is fatigued and stressed.
"If this had been any other animal like a dog or cat, there would have been no debate about it being abuse.
"I think the big issue is that there should be a culture of respect for native wildlife regardless of whether it's something we find cute or not."