Skip to main content

Danish zoo kills healthy giraffe, feeds body to lions

By Bharati Naik and Marie-Louise Gumuchian, CNN
updated 8:57 AM EST, Mon February 10, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Copenhagen Zoo official: If we sterilized giraffe, he'd just take up needed space
  • Giraffe's autopsy performed outside in front of people at Copenhagen Zoo
  • Zoo says giraffe killed because of a duty to avoid inbreeding
  • Giraffe's carcass was fed to zoo's carnivores

(CNN) -- An online petition to save a healthy young giraffe from death has failed, despite thousands of signatures from animal lovers.

Copenhagen Zoo said it euthanized the male, named Marius, on Sunday because of a duty to avoid inbreeding.

After an autopsy, "Marius" was dismembered in front of a zoo audience that included children, and fed to the zoo's lions.

Despite online uproar over the move and reports of last-minute attempts to save the animal, the zoo in the Danish capital said it had no place for Marius in its giraffe herd.

A Danish zoo has euthanized a healthy male giraffe, named Marius, saying it had a duty to avoid inbreeding. This photo of the giraffe was taken on February 7. The 18-month-old giraffe was put down with a bolt gun on Sunday, February 9, according to a zoo spokesman. A Danish zoo has euthanized a healthy male giraffe, named Marius, saying it had a duty to avoid inbreeding. This photo of the giraffe was taken on February 7. The 18-month-old giraffe was put down with a bolt gun on Sunday, February 9, according to a zoo spokesman.
Danish zoo kills healthy giraffe
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
Photos: Danish zoo kills healthy giraffe Photos: Danish zoo kills healthy giraffe
Zoo puts down healthy giraffe

"Our giraffes are part of an international breeding program, which has a purpose of ensuring a sound and healthy population of giraffes," Bengt Holst, scientific director at Copenhagen Zoo, told CNN. "It can only be done by matching the genetic composition of the various animals with the available space. ... When giraffes breed as well as they do now, then you will inevitably run into so-called surplus problems now and then."

CNN anchor Jonathan Mann asked Holst if it would have been possible to sterilize Marius or move him to another zoo to avoid killing him.

"If we just sterilize him, he will take up space for more genetically valuable giraffes," Holst answered.

Did the children watching cry? Mann asked.

Just the opposite, Holst said. The crowd was "very enthusiastic" and "the kids asked good questions."

Fed to the lions

Marius was killed by a bolt gun, not a lethal injection, which would contaminate the meat.

The carcass was used partly for research and partly to feed carnivores at the zoo -- lions, tigers, and leopards.

"In this case we would never throw away 200 kilograms of meat," Holst said.

He said the giraffe was 2 years old, and while he was not officially named, his keepers had called him Marius to identify him.

The giraffe's impending death had sparked outrage online, with more than 27,000 people signing a "Save Marius" petition, appealing for a last-minute change of heart.

"The zoo has raised him so it is their responsibility to find him a home," author Maria Evans wrote on the petition site.

Copenhagen Zoo said that due to a massive debate on its Facebook page, it had published a Q&A about the decision on its website.

"It is not possible to transfer the giraffe to another zoo as it will cause inbreeding," it said.

Several zoos volunteered to take Marius in.

The UK's Yorkshire Wildlife Park, which says it has a state-of-the-art giraffe house and the capacity for an extra male, was among several places which put in offers to take him.

International breeding program

Copenhagen Zoo said only zoos that follow certain rules can be part of international breeding programs.

In Europe, these are members of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria. The association counts just over 300 members and under its rules, inbreeding among giraffes is to be avoided.

The association said in a statement Sunday that it supports the zoo's decision.

Despite Marius being healthy, his genes are already well represented at the zoo. Releasing the giraffe into the wild would be unlikely to succeed, Copenhagen Zoo said.

Contraceptives "have a number of unwanted side effects on the internal organs and we would therefore apply a poorer animal welfare if we did not euthanize," it said.

It also made clear that its policy was not to sell the animals.

Outside autopsy

Holst told CNN the autopsy had been performed outside, given the giraffe's size, and watched by the public, including children if their parents allowed them to.

"It is 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," he said.

"People could come into this area if they wanted to. They came with children, without children, we had a lot of people."

He said a group of about 16 protesters had gathered outside the zoo on Sunday morning and that he had tried to speak with them.

He said all options had been explored before the decision had been made.

"We have always been very open about it, explaining why we are doing it," he said.

On average, he said some 20 to 30 animals, including goats, antelopes and wild boar, were culled for the same reason every year at the zoo.

"This is the first giraffe. ... I do not understand the outrage -- we are all used to on a current basis of animals being culled in the wild," he said.

"We have to ensure a safe healthy population for the future, and you can only have a healthy population if you control and coordinate your breeding efforts."

READ: Year after 'Blackfish' airs, debate over orcas continues

READ: Elephants slaughtered for trinkets and terrorism

READ: Stressed, bloody dolphins slaughtered in cove

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:53 AM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Focus is on the fish as U.S. President starts tour with visit to legendary Tokyo restaurant.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Fireworks are fantastic and human endeavor has its place, but sometimes Mother Nature outshines any performance we can produce.
updated 11:06 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
In 1987, China sent its very first email. Here's what it said,
updated 10:13 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
The world's new fastest elevator will fling you from earth to the 95th floor before you're done reading this article.
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
In one U.S. state, a new bill will allow ordinary citizens to carry guns in all sorts of places. Does it make you feel safer?
updated 10:10 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
In South Korea, volunteer divers are risking their lives to rescue victims of the sunken ferry.
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Park Jee Young, 22, helped passengers escape as the Sewol ferry sank -- giving out life jackets while refusing to wear one herself.
updated 12:43 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
What did outgoing manager David Moyes get wrong in his six months with English Premier League football team Manchester United?
updated 1:36 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
In honor of Shakespeare's birthday, here are 15 of the world's most amazing theaters.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
CNN exclusive: Australian officials are hammering out a new agreement for widening the Flight 370 search area.
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Malaysian officials sent to brief Chinese families are armed with little to no information.
updated 11:45 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
When a team of Indian surgeons opened up the stomach of a 63-year-old man, they had no idea they'd extract a fortune.
updated 3:01 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Do these photos CNN of gun-toting men wearing green uniforms prove Russian forces are in eastern Ukraine?
updated 1:11 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
If the Duchess wears it, then your fashion career is sorted for life.
updated 9:30 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Tucked away near the border with Cameroon, this poor corner of Nigeria is no stranger to such brazen, violent acts.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT