Anger at zoo's 'ghoulish' autopsy show

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EDINBURGH Zoo has been heavily criticised over plans to stage a post mortem of an animal in front of a paying live audience.

The visitor attraction announced the move on its website and is selling tickets at 20 per head for the event on August 23.

The post mortem will involve the dissection of a "large mammal", although a spokeswoman for the zoo admitted they were as yet unsure what animal would be used for the event, or where it would come from.

The move has been dubbed a "callous money-spinner" by an Edinburgh animal welfare group, while the UK charity PETA has said the move would not sit well with many members of the public.

However, Hugh Roberts, the new chief executive of the trust that runs the zoo, said the event will be of educational value.

The autopsy will be carried out by a member of the zoo's world renowned veterinary team, and is being organised to help educate members of the public about animal biology.

A spokesman for the city charity OneKind said: "This seems a really staggering thing to do at a point when the zoo doesn't need to court any more controversy. It's sending out the entirely wrong message that these (animals] are exhibits that can be put out on display even when they're dead."

The spokesman said charging 20 for tickets just two months after the zoo published income losses of 2 million would widely be interpreted as a money-making drive.

He added: "The zoo makes great pains to highlight what an educational organisation it is, but this smacks of unwavering commercialism.

"I could understand possibly an educational aspect to host this for the public as a scientific demonstration, if it were free."

A spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said: "Whilst the idea of paying to view the dissection of a cadaver may not sit well, what's truly disturbing is the unnatural and miserable life animals are forced to endure in confined zoo environments."

The zoo previously attracted criticism after it hosted a live cow autopsy as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival last April.

The event, which cost 11, was billed in the festival programme as being a way to find out what makes a cow interesting. However, following a campaign by several animal welfare charities, more than 100 people e-mailed Science Festival director Simon Gage calling for the event to be scrapped.

This latest educational event is being billed as "a fascinating insight into animal biology", giving the audience a chance to "see at first hand what the inner workings of a large mammal really look like."

A warning has been posted on the website that no one under 16 will be admitted.

Labour MSP Elaine Murray branded the proposed public dissection "ghoulish".

She said: "It sounds like a Victorian thing."People have mixed feelings about zoos and this isn't going to help them feel kindly towards them.

"I know the zoo may have financial difficulties, but I don't think this is appropriate at all."

Hugh Roberts, chief executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which owns Edinburgh Zoo, said: "Educating people about animal lifecycles and behaviour is central to our work as a conservation body.

"Through scientific events such as this, we can help promote this understanding."