The Copenhagen Zoo went ahead with a plan to shoot and dismember a healthy giraffe on Sunday and feed the 18-month-old animal's carcass to lions - an action the zoo said was in line with anti-inbreeding rules meant to ensure a healthy giraffe population.

The giraffe, named Marius, was shot in the head and then cut apart in view of children, according to a video of the incident released by the Denmark-based production company Localize.

The zoo's plans had sparked an outcry from animal rights activists. A British zoo had offered to give Marius a home and even started an online petition to save the giraffe, gathering more than 25,000 signatures.

Mads Bertelsen, the zoo veterinarian, said the giraffe was coaxed into a yard and over to a zookeeper, who held out rye bread - a food the giraffe was especially fond of, according to the video footage, which was distributed by Reuters TV.

"I stood behind with a rifle, and when he put his head forward and ate the rye bread, then I shot him through the brain," he said. "It sounds violent, but it means that Marius had no idea of what was coming. He got his bread, then he died."