A Facebook picture of Colombian soldiers hunting and skinning two ocelots deep in the jungle has sent a pulse of outrage across social media in this South American nation.
The photo, which was apparently posted by one of the soldiers, shows members of an army battalion posing proudly next to the dead cats somewhere in Colombia’s eastern jungles.
“That tiger meat even tasted good,” writes a soldier identified as Primazo CDLM.
(caution: graphic images)
The soldiers’ bravado and disregard for the protected animals has struck a raw nerve in a country currently debating whether it should do away with bullfighting and other forms of animal mistreatment.
The photo, which was taken last February, went viral this week. Twitter users are demanding the soldiers be punished to set an example for others.
But the wayward soldiers also received some Twitter love from Colombians who congratulated them for their service in the war against marxist guerrillas that are partly financed by the drug trade. Supporters dismissed the killing of the wild cats as a minor offense committed by soldiers fighting a complex and difficult war.
“You have no right to criticize soldiers over the death of an ocelot, when they risk their lives for our nation, going hungry and suffering from cold,” one Twitter user wrote.
Colombia’s Environment Minister Gabriel Vallejo said he “admired” the country’s military, but called on the army to investigate.
“We can’t allow these actions,” he wrote.
The military said that it cannot prosecute the young soldiers, because they are recruits who served their one-year mandatory military service, and are no longer serving in the army.
But a police spokesman told local daily El Tiempo that special agents would investigate the incident and bring the suspects to court.
Hunting ocelots is illegal in Colombia and can be punished with jail time.
Ocelots are one of the most common wild cats in the western hemisphere, from Argentina to the southwestern United States.
The small felines are not critically endangered, but according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature [IUCN] their population is in decline. The cat population has been particularly hard hit in Colombia, Western Mexico and the United States.
This is the second time this month Colombian social media has got in a tizzy over pictures of dead cats. A week ago, a group of campesinos posted a picture proudly displaying a dead jaguar they killed in the jungle in the western Choco province.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.