Tell Zoos To Stop Euthanizing Baby Animals: Take Action!

In the US, zoos have chosen to use contraception to maintain animal populations. As Cheryl Asa, who directs the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Wildlife Contraception Center at the St. Louis Zoo, says to the New York Times, giving birth control pills to chimps and grizzlies means that “more animals can be well cared for” and that zoos can ensure genetic diversity among animals, by preventing inbreeding and preserving the broadest array of traits.

It also means that zoos do not have to euthanize baby and young animals, when their genetic make-up is not what breeding programs calls for. Some zoos in Europe including the Copenhagen Zoo assert that it is actually better for animals to experience their natural behaviors of giving birth to their young and raising them. The young animals are taken from their parents at the age they would separate had they been in the wil  and euthanized.

Says Bengt Holst, the Copenhagen Zoo’s director of conservation, “We have already taken away their predatory and antipredatory behaviors. If we take away their parenting behavior, they have not much left.” His zoo puts down about 20 to 30 healthy “exotic” animals every year, including “gazelles, hippopotamuses, and on rare occasions even chimps.” Just this spring, even though leopards are considered threatened under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the zoo put down two leopard cubs “whose genes were already overrepresented in the collective zoo population.”

Euthanasia: “Not the Best Solution”

Such decisions open up some stark ethical questions.  Holst says that the idea behind this strategy is to mimick “what would have occurred in the wild, where some 80 percent of feline offspring die from predation, starvation or injury.” But Terry Maple, the former director of Zoo Atlanta and co-editor of Ethics on the Ark, is more wary, noting that euthanasia, which is permitted at American zoos but usually reserved for animals who are elderly or ill, is “not the best solution.”

The American Association of Zoo Verterianarians’ guidelines for the euthanization of nondemestic animals (PDF) mention chemical as well as physical methods. Stunning, gunshots, microwave irradiation and decapitation as “conditionally acceptable methods” for some species.

Health Risks of Contraceptions for Animals

Contraception for animals, especially for exotic ones, is not without health risks. Cats and canines are at risk for uterine infections and tumors from these. Elephants given contraceptives and then taken off them have difficulties restarting their reproductive cycle. Such health risks are one of the reasons that European zoos have preferred to use euthanasia.

Denmark embraces the policy and is very open about educating its public. Germany, by contrast, allows euthanasia only in “reasonable” circumstances, which can be hard to define, said Lesley Dickie, executive director of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria. A few years ago at Zoo Magdeburg in northern Germany, it was discovered that a male tiger was a hybrid of two tiger subspecies, rendering the cubs it had sired genetically useless. When the three cubs were born, the zoo euthanized them immediately.

Dr. Dickie said the Zoo Magdeburg made a “courageous” decision. But the zoo director and three employees were prosecuted for violating the euthanasia law and have received suspended sentences.

When Animal Conservation Means Killing

It is morally questionable to allow zoo animals to have offspring only with the intent of killing them after a certain period of time and, in particular, at the point at which they are maturing. In a carefully worded statement suggesting that zoos might have other concerns in mind — culling animal populations to reflect certain needs — the New York Times says that “it might seem suspiciously convenient for zoos to destroy an animal just after it has completed its most adorable phase — given that baby animals are a top zoo attraction.”

“On an emotional level, I can’t imagine doing it and I can’t imagine our culture accepting it,”the St. Louis Zoo’s Asa says about euthanizing young animals. Is it not at least ironic, if not simply troubling, to hear a zoo’s director of “conservation” justifying euthanization?


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Photo by Mister-E

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MARINA M.2 years ago

I can't believe all the Cruelty and Evil that exists in this world of ours....poor baby animals that are being deprived of God Given Life by the human race....Disgusting! The name 'Mankind' is completely contradictory in terms!!!

susan thornton
susan thornton2 years ago

How dare they play god they're the ones who should be euthanized

Michael L.
Mel I.2 years ago

Such a bad thing to happen

Lisa Windsor

Signed with tears!

Sheila D.
Sheila D.2 years ago

Thanks for the article. Lots of interesting comments....

Mary T.
Mary T.2 years ago

do not cull baby animals, if you dont want them give them to another zoo when they mature

Kayleigh Harter
Kayleigh Harter2 years ago

Why not just spay/neuter the animals they don't intend to breed? It's not necessary--and certainly not moral--to destroy them.

Rhonda Burrows
Rhonda Burrows2 years ago

This is maddening! Killing innocent healthy animals is just plain wrong! Selfish and sick! I would have to walk away from that job if it was me. They need to be stopped!

Diane L.
Diane L.2 years ago

(cont)............ Have you ever visited the San Diego Zoo that Betty White is on the board of, personally participates in the management OF, and makes sure that the animals are kept in an environment condusive to the needs of their species? Bob Barker is also quite active in that particular zoo. It's world re-known and if you haven't visited there, or anywhere else but places that keep exotic animals in "cages", then you do not have the facts. You think I'm rude because I've disagreed with you. Okay, that's your right. Why not "Google" such other places and check out the information on their the videos of their facilities and go from there? They don't make such videos to fool the public and keep their exhibits in cages behind closed doors at night. If you don't believe me, e-mail Betty or Bob Barker. They'd welcome the chance to exchange information with you.

As far as the "foolish" thing, like I said, I never called anyone a "fool", and maybe you missed the comment by one person who was very upset about animals being "decapitated". Re-reading the entire article 3 times, nowhere was that word ever used. The article discussed the fact that the Copenhagen Zoo (which is in Denmark) euthanized baby animals deemed not being "worthy" (which I don't agree with, never did and never will) and that did NOT say "by decapitation". I have no clue where that member came up with that. Euthanasia is not usually done by "decapitation". Again, SOME peop

Diane L.
Diane L.2 years ago

Rhana, you contradicted yourself by posting again after saying it was your last insulting one made to me, but that's okay. I get it..........yes, zoos in Washington (at least the ones I've visited............BOTH Woodland Park and Point Defiance) are very good at being animal-friendly and providing a good environment for their exhibits. Not even birds are kept in "cages" in the zoos here. They're in huge "aviaries" which allow them to fly as they wish. I have no clue about those in Texas, and not a single place in Texas I'd ever want to visit based on information from friends of mine who live there, which happen to be all over the state.

You've mis-quoted me, taken my comments out-of-context and put words in my mouth more than I care to repeat. I've never used the word "stupid", nor did I say a thing that you've insinuated. Yes, you were very rude when you say I was such by pointing out that this article is old and the facts were "other than" and when people post based only on those things, it makes them "appear" foolish. That's NOT calling them "fools", nor "stupid". You don't say things "just to say them"? "You know your facts"? No, you obviously do not since you haven't said a thing based on facts regarding zoos anywhere but in Texas, it seems. Have you ever visited the San Diego Zoo that Betty White is on the board of, personally participates in the management OF, and makes sure that the animals are kept in an environment condusive to the needs of their s