Lit­tle anger over Dan­ish zoo’s plan to pub­licly dis­sect lion

Healthy year-old fe­male was put down to keep in­breed­ing from fur­ther in­creas­ing the num­ber of fe­lines

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY JAN M. OLSEN

copenhagen— A zoo in cen­tral Den­mark is plan­ning to pub­licly dis­sect a year-old lion that it has killed to avoid in­breed­ing — a year af­ter another Dan­ish zoo trig­gered mas­sive online protests for killing a healthy young gi­raffe, dis­sect­ing it and feed­ing it to lions in front of chil­dren.

The Odense Zoo says the healthy young fe­male lion was put down nine months ago be­cause the zoo had too many fe­lines. The an­i­mal, which has since been kept in a freezer, will be dis­sected Thurs­day to co­in­cide with schools’ fall break, it said.

Zookeeper Michael Wall­berg So­erensen said the Odense Zoo, 105 miles west of Copenhagen, has per­formed public dis­sec­tions for 20 years. They are “not for en­ter­tain­ment”— they are ed­u­ca­tional, he said.

“We are not chop­ping up an­i­mals for fun. We be­lieve in shar­ing knowl­edge,” Wall­berg So­erensen said Satur­day, adding that the pur­pose of the public dis­sec­tion is to give peo­ple “a closer-tothe-an­i­mals ex­pe­ri­ence.”

“It is im­por­tant not to give an­i­mals hu­man at­tributes that they do not have,” he added.

The event has at­tracted sev­eral protests but has been mostly well re­ceived in Den­mark, un­like sim­i­lar plans at the Copenhagen Zoo in Fe­bru­ary 2014. That zoo faced in­ter­na­tional protests af­ter a healthy 2-year-old gi­raffe named Mar­ius, who was also killed to pre­vent in­breed­ing, was dis­sected in front of a crowd that in­cluded chil­dren and then was fed to lions.

Many Danes posted pos­i­tive com­ments on Odense Zoo’s Face­book page. Some agreed that chil­dren will not be harmed watch­ing the dis­sec­tion, which hap­pens of­ten in Den­mark and is of­ten at­tended by school­child­ren. The Odense Zoo does it “once or twice a year” and pro­motes the event. There are no age re­stric­tions for at­tend­ing the dis­sec­tions.

Lions in cap­tiv­ity are con­sid­ered young adults when they are eight to nine months old, Wall­berg So­erensen said, adding fur­ther de­tails of the rea­sons for the zoo’s pol­icy.

“Hav­ing her in the same en­clo­sure as her own fa­ther would mean that he would start mat­ing her at some point, and that would lead to in­breed­ing,” he said. “We don’t want to de­lib­er­ately al­low in­breed­ing.”

Shortly af­ter it was born in Oc­to­ber 2014, Wall­berg So­erensen started look­ing for other zoos where the lion could be sent. He said the zoo de­cided to kill the lion af­ter no other home was found.

“Be­lieve me, that is the last re­sort. I would al­ways pre­fer to send an an­i­mal to another zoo in Europe than have to put it down,” he said.

The zoo’s an­nounce­ment high­lighted the sub­stan­tial cul­tural dif­fer­ences be­tween Euro­peans and Amer­i­cans con­cern­ing zoo an­i­mals.

Each year, thou­sands of an­i­mals are eu­th­a­nized in Euro­pean zoos be­cause of poor health, old age, con­ser­va­tion-man­age­ment rea­sons or lack of space. Zoo man­agers say their job is to pre­serve species, not in­di­vid­ual an­i­mals.

In the United States, zoos try to avoid killing an­i­mals by us­ing con­tra­cep­tives to make sure they don’t have more off­spring than can be housed. Still, that method has been crit­i­cized by some for dis­rupt­ing an­i­mals’ nat­u­ral be­hav­ior.

“Amer­i­cans are very up­tight and easily get out­raged, while Danes are more open-minded,” said Skyler M. Row­land, a 45year-old from Los An­ge­les who lives in Copenhagen.

One Face­book user wrote in Dan­ish on the Odense Zoo’s page: “the world is NOT a pink Dis­ney movie.”

“We are not chop­ping up an­i­mals for fun. We be­lieve in shar­ing knowl­edge. . . . It is im­por­tant not to give an­i­mals hu­man at­tributes that they do not have.”

Michael Wall­berg So­erensen,

zookeeper at the Odense Zoo


In Fe­bru­ary, chil­dren watched as a gi­raffe was dis­sected at the Copenhagen Zoo. Thurs­day’s dis­sec­tion of a lion else­where has been sched­uled for stu­dents’ fall break.

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