After drawing international outrage for publicly killing a young healthy giraffe named Marius, the Copenhagen Zoo is back at it, this time killing four healthy lions.
Even though there were offers from other facilities to take Marius, the zoo claimed that it had to kill him because he didn’t fit into its breeding program. Sadly for Marius, he was what’s known as a ‘surplus’ animal.
His death raised awareness about killing surplus animals and hopes that public outcry might have some effect on both the Copenhagen Zoo and the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA), which considers it to be a perfectly acceptable practice.
Unfortunately, this week the zoo announced with a chilling explanation that it killed four healthy lions because they served no purpose and wouldn’t be part of a natural pride, as if there’s something natural about a pride of captive lions living in a cage.
Two of the lions who were killed were older – 16 and 14 years old – while the other two were only cubs. Officials justified taking their lives by explaining it was all due to the arrival of a new male, who may have been killed by the older male lion or tried to breed with the older female, and who posed a threat to the cubs. Apparently there’s no better way to protect cubs from possible death than to just do the job yourself. According to a statement on the zoo’s website:
The change in the lion pride had to happen now because Copenhagen Zoo currently has two young females from the 2012 litter and it is ideal to keep these as part of the new pride and then find a suitable male. If the Zoo had not made the change in the pride now then we would have risked that the old male would mate with these two females – his own offspring – and thereby give rise to inbreeding.
Furthermore we couldn‘t risk that the male lion mated with the old female as she was too old to be mated with again due to the fact that she would have difficulties with birth and parental care of another litter.
The zoo’s move to continue killing healthy animals has raised more anger from an unsuspecting public, along with serious questions about how zoos manage captive populations. On that point, the Copenhagen Zoo should probably get credit for at least being honest about what happens, instead of trying to hide it so no one starts to wonder about the fate of all those adorable babies that continue to be displayed year after year.
In Europe, officials believe it’s better to let animals breed naturally rather than to use contraceptives, or other means of preventing inbreeding, and to then get rid of the offspring. While dynamic animals like giraffes and the lions make headlines, it’s estimated that thousands of other animals in European zoos are killed as part of a management strategy every year because they don’t fit into a program anywhere.
The rationales might hold up if everyone overlooks our responsibility to care for the animals who are here, but responsible breeding involves more than just producing offspring and should require providing lifetime care for individuals.
As wild populations continue to suffer, zoos continue to tout their work to support conservation efforts through captive breeding – and it sounds like an altruistic mission – but most breeding programs are missing a key component that would actually benefit wildlife: reintroduction plans. Without plans to return them to the wild, or efforts to protect their habitats, there’s no point in continuing to breed them other than to keep them in captivity for profit and entertainment.
While zoos in the U.S. may not bluntly kill animals in front of visitors, they also produce surplus animals who have been killed and traced to the entertainment industry, private owners, roadside zoos and game farms.
With limited space available, especially for large species, moving them around to different facilities won’t solve the problem either. As long as zoos exist and continue captive breeding programs, genetic diversity will trump individual welfare and healthy animals who no longer fit into a program will continue to be seen as disposable and will continue to die.
Liz Tyson, Director of the Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS) argues in an article published by CNN that the answer may simply lie in withdrawing support from zoos and focusing on conservation efforts in the wild, writing that, “This view may be seen by some as radical but we really have very little to lose by ridding ourselves of our affection for zoos. The animals, on the other hand, have so much to gain.”
When killing a giraffe to feed to the lions and then killing the lions is the norm, not the exception, it really begs us to consider whether the zoo industry is something we should be supporting to “help” animals.
Please sign the petition urging the Copenhagen Zoo to change its practices and adopt a policy that will ensure animals in its care are accommodated for their entire lives.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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