Zoo officials in Denmark said they’re receiving death threats after killing a healthy 2-year-old giraffe and then butchering and feeding its remains to lions Sunday in front of guests, including children.

Copenhagen 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.”

Despite a petition signed by more than 20,000 people asking the giraffe’s life be spared, the Copenhagen Zoo went ahead with the decision to euthanize the animal named Marius to avoid inbreeding among its giraffes, in keeping with recommendations by a European association.

giraffe killed

Picture taken on Febuary 7, 2014 show a healthy young giraffe named Marius who was shot dead and dissected in the presence of visitors to the gardens at the Copenhagen Zoo on Feb. 9, 2014 despite an online petition signed by thousands of animal lovers to save it. (AFP/Scanpix Denmark/Kasper Palsnov)

Marius, a healthy male, was put down using a bolt pistol, Stenbaek Bro said.

The killing of the giraffe itself is not the only reason for the uproar; it’s what’s been called the “horribly wrong” and “disgusting” way the animal was publicly butchered in front of zoo visitors, especially children.

Graphic video of the event shows the beheading, skinning and bone-breaking of the animal.

Watch the footage (content warning: graphic images that are not for the squeamish):

Marius’ plight triggered a wave of online protests and renewed debate about the conditions of zoo animals.

The public dissection has caused some to question whether it should have been done in front of children as well.

Danish zoo kills giraffe before autopsy in front of SMALL CHILDREN: Marius, a 2-year-old giraffe, was killed on Sunday at the Copenha...
Danish Zoo Controversially Kills Healthy Giraffe to Avoid Inbreeding
“@: #Marius The Giraffe Skinned In Front Of Children And Fed To Lions http://t.co/noKV79ADdD via @” that's horrid!
Danish Zoo Controversially Kills Healthy Giraffe to Avoid Inbreeding
@TeklaVassie
Tekla Vassie
A zoo butchered a baby giraffe IN FRONT OF CHILDREN. This is absolutely disgusting. Those people should be in jail. http://t.co/J4k1vBVLif
Danish Zoo Controversially Kills Healthy Giraffe to Avoid Inbreeding
@MattFontana83
Matt Fontana
@ They could let the giraffe to Africa, to its real nature.This is horribly wrong ideaAnd in front of the children.My god!!!
Danish Zoo Controversially Kills Healthy Giraffe to Avoid Inbreeding
@dulkusal
Dilek Ülküsal

Stenbaek Bro said the zoo, which now has seven giraffes left, was recommended to put down Marius by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria because there already many giraffes with similar genes in the organization’s breeding program.

Denmark Zoo Kills

Children watch as Marius, a male giraffe, is dissected, at the Copenhagen Zoo, in Denmark, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014. Copenhagen Zoo turned down offers from other zoos and 500,000 euros ($680,000) from a private individual to save the life of a healthy giraffe before killing and slaughtering it Sunday to follow inbreeding recommendations made by a European association. The 2-year-old male giraffe, named Marius, was put down using a bolt pistol and its meat will be fed to carnivores at the zoo, spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro said. Visitors, including children, were invited to watch while the giraffe was dissected. (AP/Polfot, Rasmus Flindt Pedersen)

n full view of the general public a zoo vet carries out a necropsy on a perfectly healthy young giraffe named Marius who was shot dead and at Copenhagen zoo on Febuary 9, 2014 despite an online petition to save it signed by thousands of animal lovers. (

A zoo vet carries out a necropsy on a young giraffe in full view of the public after the animal was shot dead at the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark on Feb. 9, 2014. (AFP/Scanpix Denmark/Kasper Palsnov)

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 zoos to take Marius and an offer from a private individual who wanted to buy the giraffe for $680,000.

Holst, the zoo’s scientific director, said the giraffe breeding program is similar to those used in deer parks, where red deer and fallow deer are culled to keep populations healthy.

The carcass of Marius, a male giraffe, is eaten by lions after he was put down in Copenhagen Zoo on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014. Copenhagen Zoo turned down offers from other zoos and 500,000 euros ($680,000) from a private individual to save the life of a healthy giraffe before killing and slaughtering it Sunday to follow inbreeding recommendations made by a European association. (AP/POLFOTO, Rasmus Flindt Pedersen)

The carcass of Marius, a male giraffe, is eaten by lions after he was put down in Copenhagen Zoo on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014. Copenhagen Zoo turned down offers from other zoos and 500,000 euros ($680,000) from a private individual to save the life of a healthy giraffe before killing and slaughtering it Sunday to follow inbreeding recommendations made by a European association. (AP/Polfoto, Rasmus Flindt Pedersen)

“The most important factor must be that the animals are healthy physically and behaviorally and that they have a good life while they are living whether this life is long or short. This is something that Copenhagen Zoo believes strongly in,” he said in a statement.

The zoo said that due to side effects, contraceptive measures were not an option.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.