The Death of Marius the Giraffe: Breeding a Circle of Life or a Circle of Violence?
Did the Copenhagen Zoo’s decision to murder and mutilate a healthy giraffe feel more like part of the circle of life or a circle of violence?
Marius was a healthy 18-month-old giraffe. A vet shot the giraffe, and the zoo staff proceeded to dissect his body. His carcass was fed (quite literally) to the lions and other carnivores.
There must’ve been a level of educational value because Marius’ death and dissection occurred in the presence of zoo patrons and their young children. As quoted in ABC, Bengt Holst, the Copenhagen Zoo’s scientific director, explained that the public death and public autopsy were “‘a good opportunity to invite our guests to watch… we are here to educate people and that is a good way to show people what a giraffe looks like.’” Because a chart of the giraffe’s anatomy or an actual living giraffe weren’t enough ways to “show people what a giraffe looks like.”
Why Did Marius Die?
Holst continues to defend the zoo’s decision. ABC reports that “giraffes had to be selected to ensure the best genes were passed down to ensure the species’ long-term survival.” The killing is part of the zoo’s effort to maintain a healthy giraffe population, now and for the future.
Marius’ death isn’t an isolated incident, either. As reported in ABC, “some 20 to 30 animals [are] put down at Copenhagen Zoo in a typical year.” This practice is perfectly legal, too. The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) states that in-breeding isn’t an option and that Marius “could not be taken in by the 300 other EAZA-affiliated zoos.”
Even though other zoos, animal institutions and private individuals offered to give Marius a new home, the Copenhagen Zoo did not accept any offers. As reported in ABC, the private individual had offered to buy the giraffe for $680,000. The other options that the Copenhagen Zoo considered were: 1) castration, but that is bordering animal cruelty; and 2) a release into the wild where his shot of survival was slim.
Not surprisingly, EAZA supported the Copenhagen Zoo’s decision. In response to the wave of criticism, EAZA explained, “‘The young animal in question could not contribute to the future of its species further, and given the restraints of space and resources to hold an unlimited number of animals within our network and programme [sic], should therefore be humanely euthanised [sic].’”
The Shortfalls of Surplus Animals
Marius was a surplus animal. In a study published on the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) site, a surplus animal is usually used in zoos and Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs. A surplus animal is an animal that has “‘made its genetic contribution to a managed population and is not essential for future scientific studies or to maintain social-group stability or traditions.’” It can also be an animal that “‘is no longer compatible with its social group’ for various behavioral or health reasons.” The surplus of the animals isn’t accidental either. As the study explains, “It is important to remember, though, that every SSP produces surplus.”
Zoos lure patrons to their facilities with the cuteness of newborns, but what happens when that animal grows up? PETA explains that breeding programs work “under the guise of species preservation.” And when that cuteness factor fades, it is common practice for zoos to “trade, lend, sell, barter, and warehouse adult animals they no longer want.” Had Marius lived, and he was an average surplus animal, his fate would have probably not been much better. Surplus animals usually end up in other haphazard zoos, Hollywood films, circuses or “canned hunt facilities, where they become targets for hunters who are eager to shoot ‘big game.’”
It’s not just giraffes and it’s not just in zoos.
As reported in BBC News, on February 9 the Longleat Safari Park “destroyed” six of their healthy lions. The Park explained that an abundance of pregnancies had brought about “‘excessive violence behaviour [sic]‘” with it. One lion was destroyed on the basis of an injury, while the health of the other five lions was reported “to be at risk.”
What Are We Breeding?
Since these types of breeding programs knowingly create a surplus, Marius’ birth and life were already, figuratively, fed to the lions. The institution that had engendered him never had an interest in protecting or caring for him.
These skewed breeding ethics must be reevaluated. Many innocent animals have a fate similar to, or worse than, Marius. Meanwhile, SeaWorld, an animal theme park, insists on keeping a killer whale named Tilikum alive. Tilikum, who is linked to three human deaths, is alive because — can you guess it? — breeding.
The EAZA insists that Marius “‘could not contribute to the future of its species further,’” but they are wrong. Marius was more than his genes — he was a beautiful and healthy giraffe who had a right to be here. Help Marius’ senseless death “contribute” to the future of other surplus animals. Please sign and share the petition demanding that Denmark’s prime minister shut down the Copenhagen Zoo.
Photo Credit: Alois Staudacher