Danish Zoo Kills Healthy Giraffe And Feeds It To Lions To Prevent Inbreeding, Promote Education

By Ben Wolford on February 10, 2014 11:25 AM EST

Marius, a 2-year-old giraffe, is pictured before he was killed at a Copenhagen zoo. (Photo: Reuters)

Marius, a 2-year-old giraffe, is pictured before he was killed at a Copenhagen zoo. (Photo: Reuters)

Fierce reaction to the killing of a healthy, 2-year-old giraffe at a zoo in Copenhagen, Denmark, has poured in from around the world. Many are calling for the ousting of the scientific director at the Copenhagen Zoo, while others say all zoos should be abolished.

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A male giraffe named Marius had the unfortunate distinction of being not very distinct: that is, his genes were not sufficiently diverse. In order to prevent inbreeding, the Copenhagen Zoo decided to euthanize him with a captive bolt gun, a spokesman for the zoo has said, and he died instantly Sunday morning. "We don't do it to be cruel; we do it to ensure a healthy population," Scientific Director Bengt Holst told The New York Times. "You have to breed them to make sure the population is renewed."

The decision followed a concurring recommendation from the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, or EAZA, a member-based organization that upholds standards of care and biodiversity in the industry. But it was ultimately Holst's call on whether to put down Marius. He said the backlash that flooded in went so far as to include death threats. They told him, "If you kill the giraffe, I'll kill you." By Monday morning, an online petition to have Holst fired had gathered nearly 2,000 signatures. "The world is outraged," they wrote.

Much of the outrage stems from the fact that many zoos and individuals offered to take or even buy the giraffe from the Copenhagen Zoo. The Associated Press reported that one person offered $680,000. Zoo officials turned down most of these offers because they were not EAZA members. One zoo, the Yorkshire Wildlife Park in England, is a member, but Copenhagen declined them as well. They said Marius' brother already lives there, and the space should be used for a more genetically diverse giraffe. Holst has said options such as neutering and contraceptives can cause health problems that diminish a giraffe's quality of life.

What happened after Marius died only added insult to injury for animal rights activists. After he was euthanized, the zoo invited the public to gather around zoo veterinarians as they performed an autopsy. Photos quickly hit the wires (some of them were so graphic that many news organizations, including this one, chose not to publish them) showing doctors in blood-speckled white coats carving up Marius and explaining the various giraffe parts as families with children looked on. "I'm actually proud because I think we have given children a huge understanding of the anatomy of a giraffe that they wouldn't have had from watching a giraffe in a photo," a zoo spokesman told the Associated Press.

Afterward, Marius was fed to lions at the zoo. According to The Times, they consider this an obvious method for discarding meat, something that happens every day in the wild. "We still have meat for lions, tigers and leopards," Holst told the newspaper. "It's just meat that can be fed to every animal."

But PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in the United Kingdom — and others have said that nothing about zoos has anything to do with the wild. They said giraffes and other animals are simply being imprisoned for profit, far from their natural habitats. Animal Rights Sweden said that this sort of thing happens all the time in zoos around the world. (We reported last month about a zoo in Indonesia that locals call "The Zoo of Death.")

The Copenhagen Zoo, meanwhile, wonders whether there would have been so much hostility if it had put down an antelope, for example. "I don't think anyone would have lifted an eyebrow if it was a pig," Holst told the AP.

A veterinarian at the Copenhagen Zoo holds up a leg of a euthanized giraffe in an educational autopsy Sunday. (Photo: Reuters)
A veterinarian at the Copenhagen Zoo holds up a leg of a euthanized giraffe in an educational autopsy Sunday. (Photo: Reuters)

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