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Copenhagen Zoo Euthanizes Giraffe Despite Online Protest

Copenhagen Zoo's giraffe Marius was put down Sunday by zoo authorities who said it was their duty to avoid inbreeding.
Keld Navntoft
Copenhagen Zoo's giraffe Marius was put down Sunday by zoo authorities who said it was their duty to avoid inbreeding.

Marius, a healthy 2-year-old male giraffe living at the Copenhagen Zoo, has been euthanized; his body was cut up and fed to lions.

If that news disturbs you, you're not alone: According to The Associated Press, "Marius' plight triggered a wave of online protests and renewed debate about the conditions of zoo animals." The news agency says he was killed Sunday morning, despite an online petition with more than 20,000 signatures.

Local media report that animal rights campaigners gathered outside the zoo to protest the killing. Time says "with television cameras rolling and dozens of families watching, the giraffe's body was skinned and carved up."

Here's the zoo's position: "Copenhagen Zoo's giraffes are part of an international breeding programme which aims [to] ... ensure that only unrelated giraffes breed so that inbreeding is avoided," a statement on the facility's website says. It continues:

"As this giraffe's genes are well represented in the breeding programme and as there is no place for the giraffe in the Zoo's giraffe herd the European Breeding Programme for Giraffes has agreed that Copenhagen Zoo euthanize the giraffe."

At the above link, the Copenhagen Zoo answers several FAQs about its controversial decision.

Zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro says the zoo decided against sending Marius to another zoo and turned down offers from private individuals who wanted to buy the animal for $680,000.

"We know we are doing the right thing," Bengt Holst, the zoo's scientific director, told Danish TV2. "The many reactions don't change our attitude to what we do. It's very important to us that we take responsibility throughout. We need to have as healthy a stock as possible so we avoid inbreeding."

The Copenhagen Zoo belongs to the Amsterdam-based European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, which works to conserve global biodiversity.

The association said it supported the zoo's decision to "humanely put the animal down and believes strongly in the need for genetic and demographic management within animals in human care."

However, Animal Rights Sweden says the case highlights what is wrong with zoos.

"It is no secret that animals are killed when there is no longer space, or if the animals don't have genes that are interesting enough," it said in a statement. "The only way to stop this is to not visit zoos."

"When the cute animal babies that attract visitors grow up, they are not as interesting anymore," the organization said.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.