How Many Healthy Animals Do Zoos Put Down?

In the wake of the death of Marius, a healthy 18-month-old giraffe who was killed by Copenhagen Zoo on February 9, 2014, the sinister side of zoos is finally starting to come to light.

When the world heard about the fate of Marius, hoards of other zoos and organizations stepped forward offering him refuge in efforts to secure his life, but despite being accompanied by an online petition that had garnered some 30,000 signatures, these merciful pleas went unheard and official representatives of Copenhagen Zoo said they were unable to find another suitable living situation and that they were only following the recommendations of the European Association for Zoos and Aquariums when they decided to shoot him.

As heartbreaking as this story is, Marius was just one of the many perfectly healthy animals that are killed every year.

According to a recent story by the BBC, euthanizing zoo animals is nothing new, and certainly not something that is considered out of the ordinary. Not only are the facts alarming, so is the language that zoo administrators and other animal caretakers use to refer to the animals themselves.

Up to 5,000 Zoo Animals Are Killed Every Year

Figures reveal that a startling 3,000-5,000 surplus animals are culled every year in European zoos, and those numbers don’t include the countless other non-European zoos that are also disposing of their inhabitants as and when they deem necessary.

Other recent examples of healthy animals being killed include five giraffes that were put down in Denmark since 2012, four hippos killed in Spain, Portugal, Germany and Denmark, 22 healthy zebras across Europe between 2000 to 2012, and three tiger cubs who were culled in Magdeburg Zoo in Germany in 2010 “without reasonable cause.”

So Why Exactly are Healthy Animals Being Euthanized in Zoos the World Over?

Bengt Holst, the scientific director of Copenhagen Zoo, told the New York Times that “we don’t do it to be cruel; we do it to ensure a healthy population.” In other words, when an animal is considered useless to a zoo’s breeding program, as was the case with Marius, the zoo’s answer to dealing with the problem is to eliminate it altogether, and if that means a bullet in the brain before being butchered and fed to their fellow zoo inhabitants, then so be it.

Coming to grips with the exact number of surplus animals that are slaughtered each year is not easy, especially since records can be misleading. Despite being instructed to provide clear data on deaths, sometimes information is missing and it is not always recorded how an animal actually died.

Zoo professionals object to the attaching of numbers to culls at all, claiming that some cases fall into grey areas, such as actively choosing to put down ill animals, even though they can be made well again, simply because the animal in question is “genetically not important enough.”

Simon Tongue, who runs both Newquay and Paignton zoos in the UK said that using the headline “zoos euthanize thousands of animals per year” would be misleading since “most of those animals were rats or mice or something like that.”

Animals Are Individuals and Their Lives Matter Too

Regardless of what zoo officials want to call it, or how they attempt to rationalize their motives, animals are not just things with whom we can do anything we choose. They are individuals and their lives matter. They are not at fault for being born and they should not have to pay the price for human interference.

Surpluses in zoos will continue to remain a problem unless contraception is used to prevent unwanted births. The idea that killing zoo animals is part of a conservation effort is completely misguided. Libby Anderson, from the animal welfare organization OneKind put it best when she said “these animals will never replenish the wild populations. If we want to conserve wild populations, we have to address the challenges that they face in their environment.”

Photo Credit: Tambako the Jaguar


Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y3 years ago

...Alive than dead, I meant, sorry.

It surprises me that nobody in the zoo's hierarchy thought of the fact that Marius could have been used as a therapy animal for sick people or abused children or people suffering from PTSD. Even if he was 'surplus' to the zoo, he could have been sold for more than the price of dead meat to a sanctuary or charitable organization. The value of therapy animals is potentially very great. It shows just an amazing heartlessness that animals are simply 'put down' because they are excess.

ANGIE Williams3 years ago

Wild animals do not belong in zoos circuses or animal parks. Those that cannot be released should have their environments/ enclosures made as humane as possible.

Elisa F.
Elisa F3 years ago


Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y3 years ago

Awful numbers. Even counting large animals, it's in the dozens or hundreds. This totally betrays the conservation aspect of zoos imho. Boycott places that do this.

It's the result of zoos being bottom-line business. Even so, large exotics could still be exhibited for money; it's not every day you see a giraffe. Marius was potentially worth a lot more dead than alive, if he had been sold to a sanctuary where kids would pay to see him.

Alexandra G.
Alexandra G3 years ago

Very sad

Val M.
Val M3 years ago

The Copenhagen zoo's latest murders were really upsetting. Four healthy lions, including 2 cubs. I really don't know why the Danish citizens put up with that inhumane behavior!

Anita Wisch
Anita Wisch3 years ago

Sad truth.......................

Amy L.
Amy L3 years ago

This is exceedingly cruel, inhumane, irresponsible and inexcusable!