HAGERSTOWN, Maryland––The execution of Marius the giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo on February 9, 2014 provoked discussion in Europe paralleling a debate that raged in the U.S. between 20 and 30 years ago, stoked by former Detroit Zoo executive director Steve Graham.
Previously president of the Antietam Humane Society, in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, as well as director of the Salisbury Zoo and Baltimore Zoo, both in Maryland, Graham argued that surplus animals should be killed by lethal injection, as at animal shelters, if they could not be sent to other zoos accredited by the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (now the American Zoo Association). Graham bucked the prevailing zoo practices of the time by refusing to sell animals to exotic pet dealers, roadside zoos, and hunting ranches.
Early in his Detroit Zoo tenure, in 1982, Graham sold 30 crab-eating macaques to biomedical researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, and he advertised five Japanese macaques in a research newsletter in 1987, but he eventually also rejected the use of zoo animals in laboratories.
Graham during his nine years at the Detroit Zoo killed 282 animals in all, including 165 common hooved stock, of species whom most zoos quietly cull each winter to feed carnivores. Most of the rest were euthanized due to old age and/or poor health.
Paradoxically, Graham cut the overall Detroit Zoo zoo death rate in half, while doubling the animal population. This occurred largely because Graham culled the oldest animals, keeping as young and vigorous a collection as possible.
Instead of discouraging breeding, Graham rambled to reporters about the “considerable educational experience” for zoogoers in seeing “the mother-infant bond.”
Yet Graham and then-New York Zoological Society executive director Robert Wagner pushed the AAZPA to adopt policies to discourage breeding except to preserve endangered species, provide collection replacements, and feed carnivores their natural diets.
Graham left the Detroit Zoo in February 1991, eight months after the Detroit city auditor warned him that euthanizing costly animals without city council permission amounted to unauthorized destruction of city property. Graham performed several controversial euthanasias anyway before departing.
Now 68, Graham has for the past 24 years kept a low profile. But he surfaced on February 10, 2014 to tell Caleb Calhoun of the Hagerstown Herald-Mail that he endorsed the Copenhagen Zoo killing Marius, as a “teaching moment. If you eat a hamburger, there’s a consequence: a cow has to die. If you eat chicken, a chicken has to die,” Graham said. “There’s nothing wrong with that,” Graham opined, “and there’s nothing wrong with euthanizing healthy animals in order to protect the species. If you have a giraffe enclosure, you just can’t keep packing them in chockablock. You need to have room for natural behaviors.”
(See also Copenhagen Zoo giraffe killing brings zoo culling to global notice, http://www.animals24-7.org/2014/03/14/giraffe-killin…-global-notice/ .)