News

Danish zoo under fire for publicly dissecting one-year-old lion

The young male lion is brought out to the crowd for dissection
The young male lion is brought out to the crowd for dissection

A Danish zoo has publicly dissected a one-year-old male lion, pulling out organs to show a few hundred people, including children, in an event met outside Denmark with criticism and online protests.

Adult spectators brought scarves to cover their noses to ward off the pungent smell as they watched the dissection, considered by many in the Scandinavian country of 5.6 million to be an educational programme. The event was deliberately scheduled to take place during school holidays.

A Brussels-based animal protection group, however, sharply criticised Odense Zoo, 105 miles west of Copenhagen, for killing three healthy young lions this year.

Joanna Swabe, head of the Humane Society International/Europe, said in a statement that "zoos routinely over-breed and kill lions and thousands of other animals deemed surplus to requirements".

She said zoos have "an ethical responsibility" and can use contraceptive options "to manage reproduction, prevent inbreeding (and) maintain genetically healthy populations".

One of central Denmark's most popular tourist attractions, Odense Zoo has done public dissections for 20 years. Today, scores of children stood around a table where the zoo had displayed a stuffed lion cub next to the lion being dissected.

Odense Zoo employee Lotte Tranberg said the male lion and its two siblings were killed in February because they were getting sexually mature and could have started mating with each other and the zoo wanted to avoid inbreeding. They also could have killed each other because they would have been kept in the same enclosure, she said.

Ms Tranberg talked about the lives of big cats before cutting up the carcass of the lion. Children raised their hands to ask questions during the operation, which she answered.

Ole Hanson, a 54-year-old military officer, carried his five-year-old grandson Frej on his shoulders so he could watch the dissection as it started.

"But he wanted to get down and have a closer look. So he ended up in front, right before the lion," Mr Hanson said.

"For all the kids living in towns, it's wonderful for them to see and it's only natural," said Gitte Johanson, 28, another visitor who grew up on a farm.

The zoo said it decided to dissect a male lion this time because it was bigger than its female sibling.

Zoo officials say the lions were killed after they had failed to find new homes for the animals despite numerous attempts. The remains of the two other siblings - another male and a female - are still in a zoo freezer, and officials have not decided what to do with them, said Jens Odgaard Olsson, manager of the zoo.

On Facebook, a few dozen people accused the zoo and Denmark of having a lack of compassion. But on the zoo's Facebook page, ordinary Danes defended the dissection, asking English-speaking commentators whether they ever had been to a slaughterhouse.

"Life isn't the Disney Channel. Get over it ..." wrote Mikael Soenderskov, one of the Danes defending the dissection.