Unless you’ve been so engrossed with the Olympics that you’ve been avoiding the news, you should probably know about Marius the Giraffe from the Copenhagen Zoo. If you don’t, here is a quick recap. Marius was a young male giraffe in the Copenhagen Zoo. He was euthanized by a shot in the head and then dissected in front of the general public, including children. Parts of him were then fed to the zoo’s lions, while other parts were kept for research. Please read the links I have attached as resources at the bottom of this post for further information.
So what does someone like me, who has made a career in the care and training of exotic animals both in and outside of a zoo setting, think of this so called outrage? I am not in the least bit outraged. This story does not make me sad or make me outraged that the Copenhagen Zoo could do such a thing.
One of the biggest things that people outside of Europe seem to be focusing on, is how could they do this in front of children? I’m wondering, why not? It’s not like these children were having a beautiful day at the zoo, minding their own business, watching the giraffes eating and playing out in a field, and then someone came running in with a gun, gun downed the giraffe and then hacked it into pieces. Everyone who was there for the necropsy and dissection was there because they wanted to be. If you look at the pictures, none of the kids were horrified or in tears. This is life people. Adults need to give kids a lot more credit. They are curious and resilient creatures. As far as I am concerned, this was a great educational tool between the general public and the zoos.
But this comes down to a cultural difference. Americans, for example, find this completely barbaric (and I am American). There is no way parents would find this suitable for children. It’s why zoos in America are very silent about deaths with their animals. They don’t make a spectacle about it and they’d rather be hush hush about it. It’s why you would never see snakes, for example, get fed live prey in a zoo. No parent wants to subject their child to watching a boa squeeze a fluffy bunny to death and then gobble it down. I volunteered at a zoo that would make sure to feed their boas prior to the zoo opening. They felt the general public didn’t even want to see that regardless that the bunny had been dead prior. Now there are other reasons why zoos don’t live feed prey to their predators. One, euthanizing a bunny, is a much more “humane” death, than being chased and killed by a boa. Also, and this is something the general public does not always know, the prey does fight back on occasion. There have been injuries to snakes and their faces due to rats clawing at them and so on and so forth. It’s not always a “clean” kill. Injuries can happen on both sides.
According to the countless articles I’ve read, the reasoning behind Marius being euthanized was that should he breed, there would have been the risk of in breeding. His genes were simply not needed or a contributor to the line of giraffes in European zoos. In fact, it would have damaged it. Again, we run into a difference in opinion as to how one culture handles things as opposed to another. The AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquaria) believes in using contraceptions with animals. You can’t simply separate males and females from each other in all species of animals. It doesn’t work that way. So, for a lot of animals that require living together in a unit, contraceptions are the answer. It allows the animals to continue to breed and behave as normal, but no reproduction will happen.
Now, the EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) does not believe in using contraception. If they can simply prevent the animals from breeding, they will. However, using a contraception isn’t something they want to do. They believe and have documented cases, that in the long term, contraceptions can cause health problems with the animals and in some cases, cause some species to just become permanently sterile.
This is a subject that requires a lot of research and development. Is the AZA or the EAZA in the right here? At this point, I think it’s a matter of difference in opinion and a choice as to how they will do things. It is most definitely a cultural difference. I have included a few links below on the debate of contraception in zoos. One has documented cases in which lions giving a 6 month contraceptive, are still unable to get pregnant 5 years down the road.
There is one thing I don’t understand with this story. Several zoos had offered to take Marius and I’m not sure why they refused to let him go. Supposedly a private person offered to take him. I’m glad that was ignored. Being rich, does not a giraffe care provider make you. So, I am a little confused why the zoo couldn’t decide to allow Marius to be moved elsewhere. There must be something we are not aware of that has not been written about yet. Maybe the EAZA would not allow it? Or maybe the Copenhagen Zoo was so set in this result that they ignored any other solutions?
The death of a perfectly healthy 18 month old giraffe is a sad thing. Am I outraged by how Copenhagen Zoo handled this? No, I am not. I suspect it will effect how they handle this in the future, though.
I urge you to read the following articles, as they were my resources for writing this post and have some different view points.
Contraception in zoos
- What happens when zoo contraceptives work too well?
- Zoos divide over contraception and euthanasia for animals