Copenhagen zoo kills healthy giraffe, feeds body to lions

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(CNN) — An online petition to save a healthy young giraffe from death has failed, despite thousands of signatures from animal lovers.

Copenhagen Zoo said it euthanized the male, named Marius, on Sunday because of a duty to avoid inbreeding.

After an autopsy, “Marius” was dismembered in front of a zoo audience that included children, and fed to the zoo’s lions.

Despite online uproar over the move and reports of last-minute attempts to save the animal, the zoo in the Danish capital said it had no place for Marius in its giraffe herd.

“Our giraffes are part of an international breeding program, which has a purpose of ensuring a sound and healthy population of giraffes,” Bengt Holst, scientific director at Copenhagen Zoo, told CNN. “It can only be done by matching the genetic composition of the various animals with the available space. … When giraffes breed as well as they do now, then you will inevitably run into so-called surplus problems now and then.”

CNN anchor Jonathan Mann asked Holst if it would have been possible to sterilize Marius or move him to another zoo to avoid killing him.

“If we just sterilize him, he will take up space for more genetically valuable giraffes,” Holst answered.

Did the children watching cry? Mann asked.

Just the opposite, Holst said. The crowd was “very enthusiastic” and “the kids asked good questions.”

Fed to the lions

Marius was killed by a bolt gun, not a lethal injection, which would contaminate the meat.

The carcass was used partly for research and partly to feed carnivores at the zoo — lions, tigers, and leopards.

“In this case we would never throw away 200 kilograms of meat,” Holst said.

He said the giraffe was 2 years old, and while he was not officially named, his keepers had called him Marius to identify him.

The giraffe’s impending death had sparked outrage online, with more than 27,000 people signing a “Save Marius” petition, appealing for a last-minute change of heart.

“The zoo has raised him so it is their responsibility to find him a home,” author Maria Evans wrote on the petition site.

Copenhagen Zoo said that due to a massive debate on its Facebook page, it had published a Q&A about the decision on its website.

“It is not possible to transfer the giraffe to another zoo as it will cause inbreeding,” it said.

Several zoos volunteered to take Marius in.

The UK’s Yorkshire Wildlife Park, which says it has a state-of-the-art giraffe house and the capacity for an extra male, was among several places which put in offers to take him.

International breeding program

Copenhagen Zoo said only zoos that follow certain rules can be part of international breeding programs.

In Europe, these are members of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria. The association counts just over 300 members and under its rules, inbreeding among giraffes is to be avoided.

The association said in a statement Sunday that it supports the zoo’s decision.

Despite Marius being healthy, his genes are already well represented at the zoo. Releasing the giraffe into the wild would be unlikely to succeed, Copenhagen Zoo said.

Contraceptives “have a number of unwanted side effects on the internal organs and we would therefore apply a poorer animal welfare if we did not euthanize,” it said.

It also made clear that its policy was not to sell the animals.

Outside autopsy

Holst told CNN the autopsy had been performed outside, given the giraffe’s size, and watched by the public, including children if their parents allowed them to.

“It is a good opportunity to invite our guests to watch. … We are here to educate people and that is a good way to show people what a giraffe looks like,” he said.

“People could come into this area if they wanted to. They came with children, without children, we had a lot of people.”

He said a group of about 16 protesters had gathered outside the zoo on Sunday morning and that he had tried to speak with them.

He said all options had been explored before the decision had been made.

“We have always been very open about it, explaining why we are doing it,” he said.

On average, he said some 20 to 30 animals, including goats, antelopes and wild boar, were culled for the same reason every year at the zoo.

“This is the first giraffe. … I do not understand the outrage — we are all used to on a current basis of animals being culled in the wild,” he said.

“We have to ensure a safe healthy population for the future, and you can only have a healthy population if you control and coordinate your breeding efforts.”

By Bharati Naik and Marie-Louise Gumuchian

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9 comments

  • brigette krevanko

    Don,t sell the animal, just murder it. OK I see, that,s much clearer now. Just what do you do with in perfect or unwanted children. I think some guy in Germany had this same idea a while back. Look what happened to him. it,s all about Karma

  • James

    All they are doing is trying to ensure the future of the Giraffes. But heres my question for those of you who dont agree with what happened. Isnt this almost exactly what happens in nature? A lion kills and eats its prey? All they did is took out the middle man and killed the giraffe themselves. I personally would have enjoyed the opportunity to see this. But I also would have thought it would have been more educational had the lion killed the giraffe themselves but a true fact is, a fully grown giraffe CAN kill a lion with a single kick. But either way this isnt that shocking to me.

  • Susan Donitero

    Seriously? They should just not have wild animals in the first place if their going to do this. Animal captivity should only be used for animals with disabilities and need help to survive, not for money and “crowd amusement”. Zoos are very corrupt nowadays, and same with SeaWorld. I hope in the future, people won’t be so stupid, or at least, zoos will be run by people who don’t kill animals because their lazy.

  • Richard Noggin

    Susan is only mad because not even the zoo wants her. I am a protester for the rights of plants, and these monsters you call giraffes kill millions of plants a year. We should have bio domes to protect the plants with disabilities. Botanists are so corrupt nowadays.

  • Bill

    I am shocked an appalled by the unconscionable acts of the Copenhagen Zoo. All the management of the Copenhagen Zoo should be terminated immediately for their action. There is no scientific justification for what they did.

  • Taylor Bailey

    “‘If we just sterilize him, he will take up space for more genetically valuable giraffes’” (Holst)
    What, so you can just do this again? Was that not the problem you just encountered- having an animal whose genes were already represented? If you get a “genetically valuable” giraffe, s/he will mate, and this process will repeat, will it not?