THE NEW YORK TIMES | Zoo’s Public Dissection of Lion Makes Denmark Again a Target of Outrage

Denmark — land of delightful fairy tales, modish wood furniture and Senator Bernie Sanders’s favorite health care system — is once again the target of international opprobrium over its treatment of zoo animals.

On Thursday, staff members at a zoo in Odense, the country’s third-largest city, publicly dissected the corpse of a 9-month-old lion in front of an audience including children. The lion, a healthy female, was put to death in February after the zoo sought in vain to find her another home.

The move comes more than a year after another Danish zoo, in Copenhagen, generated global outrage when it killed a healthy 2-year-old giraffe named Marius, ostensibly to reduce the risk of inbreeding, before dissecting him and feeding him to lions. At that time, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals projected a giant lit-up message at the zoo’s entrance, saying: “Zoos are animal prisons: You paid the ticket, Marius paid with his life.”

The plans by the Odense Zoo to publicly dissect the lion — to coincide with a school break for Danish students — had provoked anger on social media, which erupted in outrage over the summer after an American dentist shot and killed a black-maned lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe in July.

On Twitter, some have accused the zoo of being “monsters” and “killers,” while the zoo’s Facebook page has received dozens of expletive-laced comments, as well as expressions of support from many Danes.

Nina Collatz Christensen, a biologist who is director of animal keepers at Odense Zoo, said the dissection took place at noon on Thursday, as scheduled. The children were captivated — some of them compared their nails to the lion’s paws — but a few of them recoiled, she said.

“The kids came up close to the dissection table, and there was a very strong smell, but they kept looking,” she said. “There were no protests. Some kids thought it was too much, and so they left.”

Ms. Christensen noted that the outrage over the killing or dissection of zoo animals was surprising to many Danes. Danes, she said, are a pragmatic people who put common sense above sentimentality, and Danish children learned a valuable lesson about biology from the dissections.

“We have been doing this for 20 years, and our experience is that the children are curious, ask questions and are not afraid,” she said. “Some people get caught up in emotions rather than think about the science. But if you eat a pig or cow for dinner, you have to kill it. Because it’s a cute lion, people overreact.”

Ms. Christensen said the lion was put down to prevent inbreeding, since she was living in the same enclosure as her father and the two would have been likely to mate. The lion had since been kept in a freezer.

She noted that while it was a preference in some countries, like the United States, to use contraception to keep zoo populations under control and prevent inbreeding, many zoos in Denmark and across Europe considered it better for animal welfare officers to let animals breed and express their natural instincts, even if that meant culling some of the offspring, as a last resort, for reasons of conservation.

The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, which is based in Amsterdam, said it supported the Danish zoo’s plans to dissect the lion and warned that attempts by some to generate “moral outrage” over the dissection “would not serve to protect endangered species — and may even hinder educators and conservationists in their mission to do so.”

Jessica Alexander, an author of “The Danish Way of Parenting,” wrote inthe Danish edition of The Local, an English-language newspaper, that the decision to dissect the lion in front of children reflected the country’s approach to education. “Danish parents tend to be very honest with their children about life and death — the good, the bad and the ugly,” she wrote. “For many foreigners, Danish honesty can feel a bit blunt, something akin to a hammer slamming down on your face. But once you get used to that bluntness, it can actually be quite refreshing.”

This article was featured in THE NEW YORK TIMES  

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