By Stephen Eisenhammer
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - A jaguar featured at an Olympic torch ceremony was shot dead by a soldier shortly after the event in the Brazilian Amazon city of Manaus as the animal escaped from its handlers, an army statement said.
The jaguar was killed on Monday at a zoo attached to a military training center where the Olympic torch ceremony was held. A soldier fired a single pistol shot when the escaped animal, despite being tranquilized, approached the soldier, the army said.
"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 committee Rio 2016 said in a statement.
"We guarantee that there will be no more such incidents at Rio 2016," the committee added.
A cartoon smiling yellow jaguar known as Ginga is the mascot of the Brazilian Olympic team.
The jaguar is a near-threatened species that is already extinct in Uruguay and El Salvador, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The shooting caused uproar among animal rights groups, which pointed to the recent killing of a gorilla at a Cincinnati zoo and alligators at Walt Disney World in Orlando as evidence of flawed policy towards wild animals. Many questioned why the animal was involved in the Olympic event.
"When will we learn? Wild animals held captive and forced to do things that are frightening, sometimes painful, and always unnatural are ticking time bombs — our actions put them and humans at risk," Brittany Peet, director of captive animal law enforcement at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said in a statement.
In Brazil, the Rio de Janeiro-based animal rights group Animal Freedom Union asked the same question.
"When will people (and institutions) stop with this sick need to show power and control by confining, taming and showcasing wild animals?" it said on its Facebook page.
"This needs to stop," tweeted Animal Justice, a Canadian animal law organization.
The use of Juma, as the jaguar was known, at the event was also illegal, according to Ipaam, the Amazonas state government environmental authority that oversees the use of wild animals.
"No request was made to authorize the participation of the jaguar "Juma" in the event of the Olympic torch," Ipaam said in a statement. Ipaam said it is investigating the incident.
(Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Dan Grebler and Sandra Maler)