Copenhagen Zoo Kills Healthy Giraffe And Feeds It To Lions, In Full View Of Children

Staff at Denmark's Copenhagen Zoo killed a healthy young giraffe Sunday, then skinned it and fed it to the zoo's lions in full view of a host of children and adults. The slaying and public consumption of the two-year-old giraffe, named Marius, has stirred a torrent of criticism from activists and petitioners alike. Marius' death came in spite of a last-minute "Save Marius!" petition, which was signed by more than 27,000 people.

The zoo says that it had a duty to kill Marius to prevent inbreeding. Copenhagen Zoo's argument for why they shot the animal — a shotgun was chosen instead of lethal injection, so to leave the animal's carcass healthy enough to be fed to the lions — is that his genes were already strongly represented within the zoo's seven other giraffes. The Copenhagen Zoo is a member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA,) an organization which mandates avoidance of inbreeding from reproduction between genetically similar animals.

Before the animal's death, activists attempted in vain to propose an alternative solution, which from private offers to purchase Marius (including an offer of $682,000) to calls for him to be transferred to a different zoo — England's Yorkshire Wildlife Park offered to take him in.

In the end, these options were rejected. The private offer was refused on the grounds that giraffes are social animals which can't live in isolation, and the transfer was rejected because Marius' genetic commonalities could either contribute to inbreeding, or take the place of a different giraffe better suited to reproduction.

But these arguments haven't stopped the critical backlash the zoo has since faced. Scientific director Bengt Holst has received death threats. Holst noted:

A giraffe is not a pet; it’s not like a dog or cat that becomes part of the family. It is a wild animal ... People said, ‘If you kill the giraffe, I’ll kill you,’ It’s insane.

This begs the question — why, if Marius was functionally born to die due to his genetic legacy, was he allowed to be born in the first place? Well, Holst says that in order to facilitate the giraffe population having a happy or normal life, breeding is permitted even in cases when it may lead to the birth of "a surplus animal."

If that phrase seems a little cold... well, it is. The idea of a "surplus animal," whose existence serves primarily the purpose of enhancing the social lives of its parents — not to mention, delighting the zoo's patrons until it's carved up for meat in its relative childhood — is pretty unromantic, to say the least.

It highlights the lack of moral considerations in the way a zoo operates, in spite of Holst's view that, "As long as they are with us, we want them to have a good life, with as much natural behavior as possible."

One suggestion made in favor of keeping Marius alive was to castrate him, so to prevent reproduction, and let him live out his (admittedly altered) life without meeting such a premature and grisly end. This idea was declined by Lesley Dickie, the EAZA's executive director: "Castration of a male animal can have also undesirable side effects, and a place that could otherwise be reserved for an animal that can contribute to its species' future is lost."

This seems rational, and is a sensible objection given the EAZA's breeding imperatives. Which is perhaps why the group Animal Rights Sweden would like you to stop visiting zoos altogether. "It is no secret that animals are killed when there is no longer space, or if the animals don’t have genes that are interesting enough. The only way to stop this is to not visit zoos," they said.

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