When a healthy 18-month-old giraffe named Marius was lured by zoo workers with his favorite treat and killed execution style on Sunday at the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark and then fed to the lions while visitors looked on, there was a public outcry.
But now a second Danish zoo plans to do the same. The second giraffe, also named Marius, lives at the Jyllands Park Zoo for now. He is 7 years old. The zoo plans to put him down so it can acquire a female giraffe, which, without sacrificing Marius, would throw the gender balance off and cause fights between the giraffes.
Zoo officials in the first Marius case said the killing was to prevent in-breeding.
Two questions most frequently asked this week were: “Why were the giraffe’s parents allowed to breed in the first place?” and “Do American zoos “cull” their overpopulation?”
“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; we love the big eyes, the floppy limbs, the fluff and fuzz of infants. Baby leopards, baby pandas, baby elephants ... baby giraffes. They all draw huge, paying crowds to zoos,” writes Virginia Morell for National Geographic.
Really? Can the European zoo system be so callous as to breed an animal just to sell tickets, knowing they will kill the animal when it outlives its cute baby stage?
Selling tickets may have been the motive behind the public autopsy and feeding. Lesley Dickie, executive director for the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, the accrediting organization for zoos in Europe, seemed very proud of the fact that the zoo sold thousands of tickets to the macabre display.
In a piece for CNN.com, Dickie wrote that “…7,000 visitors came to Copenhagen Zoo on Sunday, while 15 protesters stood outside.”
“The Copenhagen public spoke with their tickets to the zoo and left knowing far more about the real threats to conservation of giraffes in the wild.”
People apparently are just as hungry to see animals fed to the lions in the 21st century as they were thousands of years ago.
The problem with Dickie’s thesis about conservation is that Marius’s species, the reticulated giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata), is not an endangered species in the wild, or in captivity, apparently, since they have a surplus of them in the European zoo system.
Pet360 reached out to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums about the policy of culling in accredited zoos in the United States. It is widely thought that zoos in the U.S. instead use sterilization or move the animals if they have an overpopulation.
Both of these alternatives were rejected in Denmark, although 27,000 people signed a petition to stop the killing and various wild life refuges offered to take Marius.
The AZA did not respond directly to Pet360, but released a statement written by Director Kris Vehrs:
Zoos and aquariums in North America that are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) have a number of ways that they manage animal populations. Through the AZA Species Survival Plan program, these methods include science based breeding recommendations and cooperating to plan for adequate space. AZA’s Wildlife Contraception Center and AZA’s Population Management Center help AZA members with the expertise and planning to manage animal populations.
The Copenhagen Zoo is well known for the quality of its conservation programs. The facility is a member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA), and their programs and procedures vary from those of the AZA.
The Humane Society of the United States points out that danger for exotic animals in the U.S. is prominent in roadside and petting zoos, as well as facilities not AZA accredited. “Only a very small percentage of zoos in the U.S. are AZA-accredited,” Lisa Wathne, captive wildlife specialist, told Pet360.
“That leaves thousands of zoos and display facilities that generally engage in rampant and indiscriminate breeding of animals and often end up dumping animals due to space limitations or to make money off of them.”
The question does remain, however, about the real purpose of zoos. Are they to help conserve and preserve endangered species? Are they in existence to help educate the public about animals they would most likely never see in the wild?
Or, are they, as the Marius debacle seems to suggest, there for our entertainment and for the profit of the owners?
Sadly, for Marius and the 30-40 other healthy animals killed at this same zoo each year — six lions killed at Britain’s Longleaf Safari Park the same day and hundreds of other animals at zoos — the answer may be the one we don’t want to hear.
Editor’s Note: Photo of Marius from various social media sites.