One afternoon last January, two years after staff members at the Copenhagen Zoo surprised many people by shooting a healthy young giraffe, dissecting it in public, and then feeding its remains to lions, another Danish zoo was preparing for a public dissection. Lærke Stange Dahl and Malene Jepsen—biology students in their early twenties and part-time guides at the zoo in Odense, Denmark’s third-largest city—sat at a table in the zoo’s education room. They were surrounded by skulls and skins, and by tanks containing live snakes and cockroaches. Fruit flies hovered, and crickets chirped. This is where the zoo greets school groups, and hosts team-building exercises, centered on rodent dissections, for Danish corporations.
The next morning, Dahl and Jepsen were scheduled to dissect a young lion in front of a family audience, as part of a weekend-long event called “Animals Inside Out.” The lion, which had been euthanized a year earlier, then kept in a freezer, was thawing nearby. It had been ruled surplus to the zoo’s needs. In 2014, a similar judgment had been made about the giraffe in Copenhagen, known as Marius; its death became a social-media sensation, created panic in the international zoo business, and revealed a proud Danish unfussiness about animal mortality. Although the practice of culling zoo animals—euthanizing them for reasons of population control—is not restricted to Denmark, the practice elsewhere tends to be hidden, if not denied. In Denmark, culled animals are viewed as educational opportunities, and as meat for other captive animals. (A headline at the time read: “giraffe’s killing in copenhagen reveals zoos’ dark culling practices.”)
The women were pleased to have been assigned the dissection. They had an open, earnest confidence, founded, in part, on two years spent leading zoo tours and narrating sea-lion feedings. But neither of them had dissected a mammal larger than a rat. So they had arranged a study session—bringing coffee, reference books, and a laptop whose screen image was now projected onto a wall, just above a stuffed lion. They had cued up a YouTube video of a previous lion dissection at Odense.