COPENHAGEN––Despite a worldwide campaign to save him, a healthy 18-month-old bull giraffe named Marius was on the morning of February 9, 2014 lured from his quarters at the Copenhagen Zoo with a treat of rye bread, then dispatched with a captive bolt gun.
Reported Lars Eriksen and Maev Kennedy of The Guardian, “The death of Marius was followed by his dissection in front of a large crowd,” including many children. Afterward Marius’ remains were fed to the zoo lions.
Among the protesters were Stine Jensen, of the Danish Organisation Against the Suffering of Animals, who objected that Marius had been treated like biological waste, and Camilla Bergvall, vice chairwoman of Animal Rights Sweden, who predicted that zoos would continue culling animals until people just stop visiting zoos.
More than 27,000 people had signed electronic petitions seeking to save Marius. Several other zoos and private exotic animal keepers had offered to buy him. But the European Association of Zoos & Aquariums does not allow members to sell animals outside the 347-zoo EAZA network, and was anxious that Marius, who was considered “genetically redundant,” should not occupy space at any EAZA zoo that could go to a more genetically unique specimen, especially a female of breeding age.
EAZA giraffe breeding coordinator Joerg Jebram told media that he believed two other “genetically redundant” giraffe bulls had been killed by member zoos since 2012.
Asked National Geographic correspondent Virginia Morell, “Why is the Copenhagen Zoo breeding reticulated giraffes, when they are not endangered in the wild? And why did they let Marius’s parents mate? For answers, you need look no further than the Copenhagen Zoo’s Facebook page, where it celebrated the birth of a baby giraffe, possibly Marius, in 2012. Humans, science has shown, are drawn to babies of all kinds. They draw huge paying crowds to zoos.”
Said Copenhagen Zoo director of conservation Bengt Holst, “We have already taken away zoo animals’ predatory and antipredatory behaviors. If we take away their parenting behavior, they have not much left.” Thus EAZA member zoos “generally allow animals to raise their young until an age at which they would naturally separate from parent,” Holst said. “It is then that zoo officials kill offspring who do not figure in breeding plans.”
The Copenhagen Zoo culled two leopard cubs in early 2012, and had previously hosted public dissections of zebras, snakes and goats. And the furor occasioned by killing Marius had barely settled when on March 25, 2014 Copenhagen Zoo chief executive Steffen Straede disclosed that his staff had killed two older lionesses and their two 10-month-old cubs to prepare for introducing a new male lion to the exhibit. The Copenhagen Zoo rationalized killing the cubs by pointing out that male lions who take over a pride usually kill any cubs in the pride to bring their mothers back into estrus.
“We cull antelopes and wild boar every year,” Holst said. “I don’t understand the outrage. I know the giraffe is a nice looking animal, but I don’t think there would have been such outrage if it had been an antelope, and I don’t think anyone would have lifted an eyebrow if it was a pig.”
But the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland came under intense scrutiny after celebrating the births of two African Red River piglets in 2009, killing them in January 2010 at five months of age, celebrating the births of three more African Red River piglets in June 2010, and finally admitting in October 2010 that the previous pair had been killed.
The campaign on behalf of Marius brought to light the stated intent of the Jyllands Park Zoo, also in Denmark, to kill another “genetically redundant” giraffe named Marius. The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria had approved killing the giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo, but said it would not approve of killing the Jyllands Park Zoo giraffe. The Jyllands Park Zoo then spared that Marius, amid public hue-and-cry, ostensibly because a deal to acquire a female giraffe fell through. Columbus Zoo & Aquarium director emeritus Jack Hanna told media he had raised more than $100,000 with just three telephone calls to bring the Jyllands Park Zoo giraffe to The Wilds, a 9,000-acre Columbus Zoo & Aquarium subsidiary.
The Copenhagen Zoo giraffe killing inspired Martin Delgado and Nick Constable of the Daily Mail to expose how the Longleat Safari Park on the Marquess of Bath’s estate in Wiltshire had in January 2014 killed a lion named Henry, a lioness named Louisa, and four of her cubs.
Explained an anonymous Longleat spokesperson, “There has been a large increase in pregnancies among the lions, resulting in a 40% increase in population. This has resulted in excessive violent behavior, putting 21 of them at risk.”
Responded big cat veterinarian John Knight, who has worked for the World Wildlife Fund and the Born Free Foundation, “Most zoos have a contraceptive program in place and manage to control populations perfectly well,” without culling.
Charged Captive Animals Protection Society director Liz Tyson, “Marius and Henry were bred to spend their lives in unnatural, manmade surroundings because zoos make money from showing off exotic animals. If there was overcrowding at the zoo, it was because the animals were not given enough space. If there were fears over inbreeding at the zoo, it was because the zoo had not taken measures to prevent that from happening.
“Edinburgh Zoo admitted killing almost 40 animals between 1992 and 2011,” Tyson continued. “Knowsley Safari Park came under fire in 2011 for culling animals. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. A CAPS study carried out in 2003 found that at least 7,500 animals––and possibly as many as 200,00–– in European zoos are ‘surplus’ at any one time.”
EAZA spokesperson David Williams Mitchell told Malin Rising of Associated Press that member zoos probably kill about 1,735 “surplus” animals per year.
But the practice is not well-accepted. 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.
“Any institution that breeds animals for public display or education must be responsible for the well-being of those individual animals throughout their lifetimes,” blogged Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle. “I can only hope that one positive outcome in the wake of this incident is that all zoos will decide it is outside the bounds of acceptable conduct to kill healthy animals, even when their continued presence is deemed inconvenient or expensive. It should also prompt zoos worldwide to carefully consider their reliance on culling as a management tool.”
Agreed ethologist Marc Bekoff in a column for Psychology Today, “Zoos, as long as they exist, must be for the animals who are forced to live there, not for the people who visit or run them. Glib excuses for killing any individual must be countered and zoo personnel must refer to the animals as who they really are, not as disposable, unneeded, or surplus objects.”
Bekoff called for “phasing out zoos in favor of sanctuaries where individuals can live out their lives with respect and dignity.”
(See also Steve Graham defends Copenhagen Zoo giraffe killing, http://www.animals24-7.org/2014/03/14/steve-graham-d…iraffe-killing/ .)