Recently my co-author and I were interviewed by BT on The Danish Way of Parenting’s opinion about the international outrage surrounding the Odense Zoo performing live autopsies of animals in front of children.
They wanted to know why we thought the international community had been so upset about it. In 2014, the Copenhagen Zoo put down a healthy giraffe due to overcrowding, and dissected it publicly. They then fed the remains to the lions. The whole thing caused such a stir that the zoo’s scientific director received death threats.
Now Odense Zoo will perform another public autopsy, this time on a lion, for school children during their autumn holiday.
“The reason we are dissecting it is because we believe there is a lot of education involved in dissecting a lion” zoologist Michael Wallberg Sørensen told AFP.
Is it wrong to put animals down due to overcrowding in a zoo? Is it wrong to cut them up in front of all ages of children and show them the organs and open a dialogue about it? Is it wrong, as with Marius the giraffe, to feed his cut up remains to the lions? Those are questions I can’t answer. But what I can say is: whether you are outraged, fascinated or angry, this whole scenario sounds incredibly Danish.
In fact, this is what my co-author, Danish psychotherapist Iben Sandahl, and I said in our interview with BT. This is a very good example of The Danish Way of Parenting’s “authentic” education style. Danish parents tend to be very honest with their children about life and death – the good, the bad and the ugly. For many foreigners, Danish honesty can feel a bit blunt, something akin to a hammer slamming down on your face. But once you get used to that bluntness it can actually be quite refreshing.
It’s hard to decipher meaning when people try to sugarcoat what they say. Kids in particular can have a difficult time understanding this. The truth is, it is often adults who are uncomfortable talking about harder subjects, not kids. Danes don’t sugarcoat information for their children or for others, for that matter. They don’t feel the need to protect kids too much from reality. Being unafraid to be in touch with reality is how we can get more in touch with ourselves and our true feelings. This kind of authenticity creates more wellbeing in the long run.
Right or wrong, animals are put down in zoos due to overcrowding. Right or wrong, many people eat meat. Right or wrong, that meat comes from dead animals. And right or wrong, other animals in the zoo have to eat other dead animals to survive. Many Danes feel this experience gives their children the true insight to help them make their own choices in the future. That could be anything from becoming a veterinarian to a vegetarian to an animal activist. The objective is to show them a real scenario and be open to talking about it.
Some have suggested that it is the over Disney-ification of animals that has created such an uproar over a live autopsy. I don’t think so. I think many parents want to protect their children from damaging experiences. And this is both good and understandable. The only problem is: how do we define what is damaging and what is informative? Where is the line between protection and suppression? Between reality and censorship? If we over-package everything to look nice, sound nice and have a happy ending, is that really preparing our children for life’s ups and downs? Or is that buffering them from a bigger shock later on?
What exactly are we protecting them from?
If the saying is true that “it’s a jungle out there” then maybe there is no better time like the present to get kids acquainted with it.
Jessica Alexander is an American author who co-wrote 'The Danish Way of Parenting: A Guide to Raising the Happiest Kids in the World'. She has been married to a Dane for over 13 years and has always been fascinated by cultural differences. She speaks four languages and currently lives in Rome with her husband and two children. Her book can be purchased via Amazon and Saxo.