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

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Teresa W.
Teresa W.about a month ago

the lions, sorry for the misprint

Teresa W.
Teresa W.about a month ago

Brandon, the lion are going to eat you if you go to the zoo. (A stupid answer to a stupid question.)

Roberto Meritoni
Roberto Meritoniabout a month ago


Maggie W.
Maggie W.about a month ago

Marius was not humanely euthanized he was shot in the head, dissected in front of children and feed to the lions and they have the nerve to say that neutering Marius would boarder on animal cruelty! Clearly we need to entrust our precious wildlife to people who have compassion and won't conduct breeding programs that they know will create a "surplus." We need more sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers to prevent these grizzly spectacles. P.S. I'm very sensitive to graphic animal cruelty. I would appreciate it if those who wish to watch Marius being devoured, or whatever is taking place, are directed to another link. Just the picture is too much for me. Thank you.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 months ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown
Carrie-Anne Brown10 months ago

already signed, thanks for sharing :)

Mark Donner
Mark Donners1 years ago

I suggest everyone go to this Denmark's zoo's facebook page and tear into these psychopaths.. they're not running a zoo they're running a slaughterhouse and a circus for sadists. Any employees including the criminal director of this atrocity called a zoo should be thrown in to a jail cell. The Denmark government is also corrupt and full of Nazis. The Denmark governments sponsor that yearly atrocity in their Faroe Islands massacring pilot whales which is truly a crime which can't be forgiven.

Laura R.
Laura R.1 years ago

shocking story... hope more people become aware of this...

Brandon Van Every

What are the lions going to eat? Why prefer a giraffe over a deer or a chicken?

Marlene Dinkins
Marlene Dinkins1 years ago

this is one of the most horrific stories I ever see it, thi been barbaric!!!!! cruel and not necessary. this poor baby did not have to die!!!!!, this people have not morals not compassion!!!! this photos just make my stomach and heart sick, this is toooooo cruel!!!!!!! I hope the person to did this or the persons pay in some way what had been done to an innocent and beautiful anima, Iam sick !!!!! I had prayed for this angel!!!