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Zoo kills neglected bear cub, will stuff it for children to learn 'nature can be cruel'

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(CNN) -- A zoo in Switzerland is the latest to be embroiled in controversy, after it not only killed a healthy bear cub but will now stuff and display it to teach children that "nature can be cruel."

Details of the fate of the baby brown bear, known only as Cub 4, come on the heels of outrage over the killing by Denmark's Copenhagen Zoo of a young male giraffe named Marius and four lions.

The Dahlholzli Zoo in the Swiss city of Bern said it decided to put down the bear cub after its father, named Misha, mauled its sibling to death and threatened to do the same to Cub 4.

According to a media release, the zoo initially decided not to interfere with the bears' "natural" behavior.

But when it was observed that the mother, Masha, had begun neglecting Cub 4 and that the father was roughing it up too, zoo staff decided in April it would be kinder to kill the youngster.

This week, the zoo announced that the cub, whose remains were deep-frozen, would be thawed out and handed over to an expert taxidermist to be stuffed.

The hide has been separated from the body and will be tanned and the body measured for a mold.

Explaining the process, the zoo said it considers it central to learning that animals are experienced in as natural a condition as possible, including contact with "animal materials" like hides, bones or fully stuffed creatures.

It added, "An emotional experience takes priority, which brings nature closer to the children with all its facets -- 'nice' or not -- and makes them tangible."

But criticism of the zoo's actions has focused on the fact that the adult bears involved were hand-raised -- suggesting that their cubs could have been raised that way too.

The daily newspaper Berner Zeitung reported in April that the zoo had received a flood of public comment after Cub 4 was killed.

It quoted Sara Wehrli, head of the Wild Animal Department of Swiss Animal Protection, as saying the zoo had acted "irresponsibly" in its care of the bears.

"Bears are loners and need room, and in zoos, there are already too many brown bears," she said. "Letting the two get pregnant was wrong. You can't leave wild animals in captivity to 'nature.'

"Whoever keeps them must take responsibility for them."

In March, after the controversy over the Copenhagen Zoo's actions, European Association of Zoos and Aquaria spokesman David Williams-Mitchell told CNN that across the European zoos governed by the body, about 3,000 to 5,000 animals are killed each year under programs to manage zoo populations.

This includes "everything from tadpoles and insects up to charismatic megafauna like giraffes and lions," he said, adding that it represents only 0.06% of the zoos' overall animal population.

Exact figures are hard to come by, but a few hundred of those killed by the zoos each year would be large animals, he said.

Williams-Mitchell added that members of the public and animal rights groups tend to object only when zoos kill "cute, storybook animals," rather than rodents or tadpoles.

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