A Swedish zoo has come under fire for its controversial, and seemingly cruel, practice of killing healthy young lions.
PEOPLE contacted Borås Djurpark, near Gothenburg, which openly admits and explains its euthanasia, or “culling,” practice.
“In Boras Zoo, we have euthanized 9 young surplus lions since 2013, for population management reasons. These lions were not cubs, but subadults around 1.5 -2 years old which had to leave their family unit because of group aggressions and other welfare reasons … these animals were unfortunately not possible to relocate within the community,” states the zoo’s press release, authored by CEO Bo Kjellson.
“We use translocation, contraception and the euthanasia of surplus animals as population management tools,” writes Kjellson. “In accordance with animal welfare, our animals should be able to express all natural behaviors possible, including breeding and the caring of offspring. Euthanasia is our last choice, when all other potential solutions are proven impossible. We follow EAZA’s [European Association of Zoos and Aquaria] Code of Ethics and the Culling Statement, which are also reflected in the WAZA [World Association of Zoos and Aquariums] policy for the same issue … We are very transparent about this concept, both in our communication with our visiting guests and students, as well as in our communication with the media.”
Indeed, the chief executive of the park told Swedish broadcaster SVT, “It’s no secret in any way and we do not try to hide that we’re working this way. So it’s unfortunately a natural path for groups of lions.”
While the zoo’s methods seem cruel and unnecessary, the EAZA also issued a statement in support of the Borås zoo, saying it’s “aware of the culling of African lions at our member zoo.”
The EAZA goes on to say that it “is satisfied that Borås Zoo has been acting within the EAZA Code of Ethics and according to the terms of the EAZA Culling Statement, the guiding documents for the regulation of euthanasia as a management practice. The animals in question were killed humanely at an appropriate age to avoid any compromise in welfare to them and to the parent animals.”
The Independent reports that only two of 13 lion cubs, from three different litters, have survived over the past five years at Borås Djurpark. Nine of the cubs were put down by the zoo, while two died from natural causes.
According to SVT, the four young lions born in the spring of 2012 — called Simba, Rafiki, Nala and Sarabi — were put down in the fall of 2013. Three more “subadults” (as the zoo refers to them) — Kiara, Banzai and Kovu — were born in spring of 2014 and “culled” in the summer of 2015. Finally, just this past Tuesday, two more young lions from a 2016 litter — Potter and Weasley — were killed. The two surviving youngsters, Dolores and Granger, were placed in an unnamed U.K. zoo.
With each litter, the zoo appears to have had no qualms about inviting the public and the media to celebrate the cute babies, regardless of what might happen to them as adults.
“It would have been strange if we had a litter of lions and then did not show them,” the CEO told SVT.
On Jan. 9, the zoo posted an article titled “Materials from Borås Zoo Lion Help Save Threatened Felines in the Wild” to its Facebook page, which purports that biological material from at least one culled lion is being used as part of various big cat research projects. Commenters on the post say this activity, too, is “despicable” and “unethical” — to which the zoo responded, “There is a lot of energy and thought behind every decision concerning animal life at the zoo. Ethical issues and dilemmas are something that we are discussing more or less daily both in official and unofficial meetings between colleagues. Our employees who work closely and around the animals daily are consistently professional, compassionate and reflective people.”
Despite the growing furor over Borås Djurpark’s methods, the zoo remains steadfast in its philosophy and procedures.
“We in Borås Zoo fully respect the diverse opinions on this matter, and its controversy. But our management is based on the highest standard of animal welfare while taking all available knowledge about animal behavior and population dynamics into consideration.”