MAGDEBURG, Germany––Magdeburg Zoo director Kai Parret and three members of the zoo staff were on June 17, 2010 convicted of cruelty for killing three tiger cubs at birth in May 2008 because their father was found to be a hybrid of the Siberian and Sumatran tiger subspecies. A fine of 8,100 euros was suspended on condition that the offense not be repeated.
The charges were brought at request of the German pro-animal organizations Animal Public and People for Animal Rights/ Germany.
The Magdeburg Zoo bought the tigers parents with the intention of breeding them, believing them both to be purebred Siberian, but found Sumatran genes in the father in February 2008, after the mother was already in advanced pregnancy.
Rising in defense of Parret and staff, the World Zoo Association issued a statement that it regards the humane euthanasia of the tiger cubs as being an entirely reasonable and scientifically supportable action.
Agreed the European Association of Zoos & Aquaria, EAZA and the Tiger EEP (inter-zoo breeding program) are unable to understand how, when it is judged acceptable to cull wild animals on grounds of hybridisation or overpopulation and farm animals on grounds of economic viability, it can be judged unacceptable to do the same with zoo animals in order to further the conservation of endangered species.
Added International Union for the Conservation of Nature species survival committee chair Simon N. Stuart, I believe that the conviction of the three Magdeburg Zoo staff, on the grounds that humane management euthanasia is not a reasonable course of action for conservation purposes, to be a retrograde step.
But the conviction was based not on conservation considerations but consideration of the rights of individual animals under German law and the positions of many animal rights advocates and zoo management were paradoxically reversed from just three years earlier. Recalled The Local, a Berlin newspaper published in English, Polar bear cub Knut, born at the Berlin Zoo in 2007, became a star when an animal rights activist called for him to be euthanized after his mother rejected him. Knut was instead raised by hand, as was polar bear cub Snowflake at the Nuremberg Zoo in 2008 despite picketing from animal rights protesters.
German zoos have in recent years repeatedly invoked purported conservation needs in defense of controversial practices.
The German Green Party politican Claudia Hämmerling, for example, in March 2008 filed a criminal complaint against Berlin Zoo director Bernhard Blaszkiewitz for allegedly improperly selling surplus animals, including a pygmy hippopotamus, jaguars, tigers, and a family of bears. Blaskiewitz denied the allegations but admitted to having killed four feral kittens with his bare hands in 1991.
The Thueringer Zoo, in Erfurt, in 2007 fired director Norbert Neuschulz for allegedly allowing staff to sell surplus animals to be slaughtered for human consumption.
Associated Press correspondent Les Neuhaus alleged in 2006 that the Lion Zoo in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, had poisoned lion cubs two years earlier for sale to taxidermists. Taken up by London Sunday Times reporter Daniel Foggo, the investigation spread to zoos in Germany, France, and Belgium, which had purportedly supplied taxidermist Jean-Pierre Gerard with carcasses since 1994.
The Magdeburg Zoo case drew notice to the practice of zoos routinely breeding and killing animals to keep young specimens on exhibit, though Parret and staff denied doing this, and provoked discussion about what zoos should do with accidental hybrids and other animals who are deemed to be of no conservation value.
The American Zoo Association has recommended for nearly 20 years against allowing Bornean and Sumatran orangutans to crossbreed, but has not recommended that those who already inhabited zoos should be killed, and opposes the sale of exotic species outside AZA member institutions.
The AZA phased in stricter policies governing the disposition of surplus animals than those in effect at zoos in most of the rest of the world in 1986 and 1991, pushed by former Detroit Zoo director Steve Graham.
Graham came to the Detroit Zoo in 1982 after serving as president of the Antietam Humane Society in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. His predecessor at the Detroit Zoo quit after being accused of taking kickbacks from animal dealers.
Graham both contributed to exposing the then common practice of selling zoo animals to be shot at so-called canned hunts, and killed many animals by pentobarbital injection whom the AZA Species Survival Plans deemed genetically redundant.
Graham resigned in 1991. His successor, Ron Kagan, encourages zoos to place animals who are unsuitable for exhibiton or breeding at reputable animal sanctuaries.