Stockholm (CBS) - Officials at the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark say they received death threats after the zoo killed a 2-year-old giraffe and fed its remains to lions.
Zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro said Monday that he and the zoo's scientific director, Bengt Holst, received several threats over the telephone and in emails. They quoted one email as saying: "The children of the staff of Copenhagen Zoo should all be killed or should get cancer."
The giraffe, Marius, was killed Sunday using a bolt pistol, then skinned and fed to lions in front of visitors, including children.
The zoo said it killed Marius to prevent inbreeding, and it defended the public feeding as a display of scientific knowledge about animals.
Marius' plight triggered a wave of online protests and renewed debate about the conditions of zoo animals. Before the giraffe was killed, an online petition to save it had received more than 20,000 signatures.
After the online backlash, the zoo published a Q&A on its website outlining the reasons it would euthanize a healthy giraffe.
The public feeding of Marius' remains to the lions was popular at Copenhagen Zoo. Stenbaek Bro said it allowed parents to decide whether their children should watch what the zoo regards as an important display of scientific knowledge about animals.
"I'm actually proud because I think we have given children a huge understanding of the anatomy of a giraffe that they wouldn't have had from watching a giraffe in a photo," Stenbaek Bro said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
He said the zoo, which now has seven giraffes left, followed the recommendation of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria to put down Marius by because there already were a lot of giraffes with similar genes in the organization's breeding program.
The Amsterdam-based EAZA has 347 members, including many large zoos in European capitals, and works to conserve global biodiversity and achieve the highest standards of care and breeding for animals.
Stenbaek Bro said EAZA membership isn't mandatory, but most responsible zoos are members of the organization.
He said his zoo had turned down offers from other ones to take Marius and an offer from a private individual who wanted to buy the giraffe for 500,000 euros ($680,000).
"It is no secret that animals are killed when there is no longer space, or if the animals don't have genes that are interesting enough," it said in a statement. "The only way to stop this is to not visit zoos."
"When the cute animal babies that attract visitors grow up, they are not as interesting anymore," said the organization.
Elisa Allen, spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in the U.K., said Marius' case should serve as a wake-up call for anyone who "still harbors the illusion that zoos serve any purpose beyond incarcerating intelligent animals for profit."
She said in a statement, "Giraffes rarely die of old age in captivity, and had Marius not been euthanized today, he would have lived out his short life as a living exhibit, stranded in a cold climate, thousands of miles away from his true home."