Did This Giraffe Have to Die?

The Copenhagen Zoo is under major fire for putting a perfectly healthy giraffe to death in front of visitors, including children, and then proceeding to skin, slice and feed it to the zoo's lions

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The Copenhagen Zoo is under major fire for putting a perfectly healthy giraffe to death in front of visitors, including children, and then proceeding to skin, slice and feed it to the zoo's lions. According to the Associated Press, the public event, promoted as a teaching exercise for the children, was well attended. (Warning: Some of the photos below might be upsetting to animal lovers.)

According to the zoo, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) recommended it put down Marius The Giraffe, because there were already too many giraffes with similar genes in the EAZA's breeding program. Plus, the Copenhagen Zoo already has seven other giraffes.

The Zoo went through with the euthanization even though more than 20,000 people signed an online petition to save Marius and one individual offered to buy the animal for $680,000. The zoo also refused offers from Britain's Yorkshire Wildlife Park because Marius' older brother lives there, and the Copenhagen Zoo's scientific director Bengt Holst didn't want Marius to take up space that could be used by a "genetically more valuable giraffe."

The zoo veterinarian, who shot the lethal bullet, described the killing in a similarly stark manner to Reuters:

The zoo veterinarian, said the giraffe was coaxed into a yard and over to a zookeeper, who held out rye bread - a food the giraffe was especially fond of, according to the video footage, which was distributed by Reuters TV. "I stood behind with a rifle, and when he put his head forward and ate the rye bread, then I shot him through the brain," he said. "It sounds violent, but it means that Marius had no idea of what was coming. He got his bread, then he died."

AP /POLFOTO, Rasmus Flindt Pedersen

Zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro was less than sentimental when defending the zoo's decision to show children the vicious circle of life, even when it includes the dismembering of giraffes with human names. "I'm actually proud because I think we have given children a huge understanding of the anatomy of a giraffe that they wouldn't have had from watching a giraffe in a photo." What a nice lesson in death and eugenics for our children.

Holst also questioned motives of those raising an uproar about Marius, wondering if anyone would care if a less attractive animal were the victim.

"I know the giraffe is a nice looking animal, but I don't think there would have been such an outrage if it had been an antelope, and I don't think anyone would have lifted an eyebrow if it was a pig." The children of Denmark are learning all of life's lessons in one go, apparently.

Per the Zoo's website, which poses the question "Why does Copenhagen Zoo euthanize a healthy giraffe?" offers this explanation:

If an animal’s genes are well represented in a population further breeding with that particular animal is unwanted. 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. This is a situation that we know from other group animals that breed well. When breeding success increases it is sometimes necessary to euthanize.

The statement adds, "we see this as a positive sign," and reminds readers that "the same type of management is used in deer parks where red deer and fallow deer are culled to keep the populations healthy."

AP/POLFOTO, Rasmus Flindt Pedersen

The Dublin Zoo says it "does not agree with the euthanasia of a young healthy giraffe which took place at Copenhagen Zoo. We were very saddened to hear that this occurred despite the fact that there were zoos willing to take the animal." But animal rights groups are taking this as an opportunity to criticize all zoos, and to shed light on their cruel treatment of animals.

Animal Rights Sweden called for a boycott, saying "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." A representative from Denmarks' Organisation Against the Suffering of Animals said the incident "shows that the zoo is in fact not the ethical institution that it wants to portray itself as being, because here you have a waste product -- that being Marius."

Well there you have it, kids. Giraffes live, genetically redundant giraffes die. If they're lucky, they get some bread before their body is ripped apart and eaten by carnivorous creatures in front of a rapt audience. Welcome to the cruel, dark world.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.