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A Danish zoo publicly dissected a year-old male lion Thursday, pulling out its blood-red organs to show a few hundred people, including children — an event that has set off global criticism and online protests.
Adult spectators brought scarfs to their noses to ward off the pungent smell as they watched the dissection, considered by many in this Scandinavian country of 5.6 million to be an educational program. The event was deliberately scheduled to take place during the annual fall school holidays.
A Brussels-based animal protection group, however, sharply criticized 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, the Odense zoo has done public dissections for 20 years. On Thursday, 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.
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.
Public dissections are common in several European countries. Funen Village, an open-air museum in Odense, slaughtered and dissected a pig Wednesday before children while explaining which parts of the animal are eaten.
Odense Zoo itself was elected "Best in Europe" in the category with up to 500,000 visitors per year in 2013 and 2015.