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Officials at a zoo in Denmark say they received death threats after the zoo killed a young giraffe and fed its carcass to lions because the animal was unwanted.

Copenhagen Zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek told The Associated Press on Monday that he and the zoo's scientific director, Bengt Holst, received multiple threats via telephone and email. They quoted one threat as saying: The children of the staff of Copenhagen Zoo should all be killed or should get cancer.

The giraffe, 18-month-old Marius, was killed with a bolt gun, then skinned and fed to lions in front of park visitors including some children.

Marius could not be released into the wild as his attachment to humans would make him easy prey, and no other zoos with the same breeding program had room for him, the zoo said.

Animal rights activists massed outside the zoo to protest the killing Sunday, local media reported, as gruesome photos of the public autopsy spread like wildfire across international social media amid public outrage.

The zoo said Sunday that Marius was euthanized to avoid in-breeding.

When breeding success increases, it is sometimes necessary to euthanize, Holst said on the zoo's website, adding that the decision led to a debate.

We see this as a positive sign and as insurance that we in the future will have a healthy giraffe population in European zoos, Holst explained. The same type of management is used in deer parks where red deer and fallow deer are culled to keep the populations healthy. The most important factor must be that the animals are healthy physically and behaviorally and that they have a good life whilst they are living whether this life is long or short.

If an animal s genes are well represented in a population further breeding with that particular animal is unwanted.

It added that the animal was killed with a bolt gun so that its meat could eaten, which would not have been possible if anaesthetic had been used.

The zoo also defended the public feeding as an educational demonstration about animals, according to the AP.

The organization Animal Rights Sweden told the AP that the case highlighted what they believe zoos do to animals regularly.

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, the organization said in a statement. The only way to stop this is to not visit zoos.

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