Outrage as Danish zoo dissects lion in front of children

Visitors look on as zoo employees work on the dissection of a lion at the zoo in Odense, Denmark on Oct 15, 2015.
Visitors look on as zoo employees work on the dissection of a lion at the zoo in Odense, Denmark on Oct 15, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

COPENHAGEN (AFP) - A Danish zoo on Thursday (Oct 15) 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 put down in February after failing to find another home for them, and had since been kept in a freezer.

Last year, a zoo in the capital Copenhagen came under fire after a healthy giraffe was put down and dissected in public.

Between 300 and 400 children and adults gathered around Odense zoo guide Rasmus Kolind as he began the dissection by cutting off the lion's tongue.

Some of them, standing only centimetres 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.

Some of the children were as young as four.

"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.

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 occurance at Danish zoos, where they are seen as a way of teaching children about nature.

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.

A Copenhagen zoo prompted a storm of criticism in February last year, and its scientific director received death threats, for putting down a healthy giraffe and cutting it up in public.