A Danish zoo has defended its decision to kill two ageing lions and two cubs, citing the risk of in-breeding and the arrival of a new male.
This week's cull has put Copenhagen Zoo on the defensive again, a month after it infuriated animal rights activists by killing a healthy giraffe, dissecting it in public and feeding it to the lions.
The zoo said it had to put down the lions to make room for a new, nearly three-year-old male, saying it would not have been accepted by the pride if the older male – aged 16 – was still around.
The cubs were also put down because they were not old enough to fend for themselves and would have been killed by the new male lion anyway, officials said.
Zoo officials hope the new male and two females born in 2012 will form the nucleus of a new pride.
They said the culling "may seem harsh, but in nature it is necessary to ensure a strong pride of lions with the greatest chance of survival".
In February, the zoo faced protests and even death threats after it killed a two-year-old giraffe, citing the need to prevent in-breeding.
This time the zoo was not planning any public dissection. Still, the deaths drew protests on social media, including a petition with nearly 50,000 signatures calling on the zoo to stop killing healthy animals.
Each year, thousands of animals are put to death humanely in European zoos for a variety of reasons.
Zoo managers say their job is to preserve species, not individual animals.