A Danish zoo on Thursday publicly dissected a lion in an educational event for children, sparking outrage from an animal rights group which branded the initiative “a macabre spectacle.”
The nine-month-old lion was one of three that Odense Zoo, in central Denmark, euthanized earlier this year after “numerous attempts to find another institution of similar high welfare standards to take it were unsuccessful,” according to a statement from the zoo.
Since the zoo was unable to provide a home for the healthy baby lion, the corpse was kept in a freezer before it was publicly dissected.
Between 300 and 400 children, some as yong as 4, gathered around zoo employee Rasmus Kolind as he began the dissection by cutting off the lion’s tongue. Some of them, standing only inches away, held their noses and frowned as the dead animal was skinned and the stench of the cadaver began to spread.
“Wouldn’t it be stranger if I were standing here cutting up an animal that smelled like flowers or something else?” Kolind told the crowd. “Dead animals smell like dead animals. There’s not a lot to say about that,” he said.
“I don’t want to see that,” one boy said, while a girl interviewed by public broadcaster DR described the event as “fun to see but also a bit disgusting.”
Zoo guide Lotte Tranberg explained why the healthy young lion had to be put down.
“If we had allowed it to stay it could have mated, that is to say have cubs, with its own sisters and its own mother. And then you have what is called inbreeding,” she told the crowd.
“The animal in question was culled as the result of a comprehensive review of the options, and was carried out humanely and without compromise of the animal’s welfare,” according to a statement from the zoo.
Tranberg and Kolind later tried to recreate a lion’s roar by blowing into a tube they had inserted into the dead animal’s neck.
In a scene that might have shocked parents in other countries, Kolind jokingly asked: “Is there anyone who would like an eye?” before chopping off the lion’s head, holding it up and then proceeding to skin it.
Public dissections are a regular occurrence at Danish zoos, where they are seen as a way of teaching children about nature.
Last year, a Copenhagen zoo came under fire after a healthy 2-year-old giraffe named Marius was put down and also dissected in public. After the dissection, Marius’ body parts were fed to lions in the zoo.
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A spokeswoman for the Humane Society International in Europe, Wendy Higgins, accused the zoo of “making a macabre spectacle out of a much deeper tragedy.”
The group said it highlighted widespread over-breeding of lions and “thousands of other animals” in zoos.