Zoo Associations Respond to Outcry Over Giraffe Killing

Trade groups representing zoos in Europe and the United States are speaking out after Copenhagen Zoo euthanized one of its giraffes this week.

The killing of a giraffe in Denmark this week created a public uproar that included death threats to staff of Copenhagen Zoo, where the healthy, 18-month-old animal was housed. The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) is defending the zoo and its decision to euthanize the animal.

Marius, as the giraffe was called by his keepers, was shot in the head with a bolt gun on Sunday. The body was used for research and to feed other animals in the zoo, according to CNN.

The giraffe was euthanized by staff at Copenhagen Zoo—a member of EAZA—to avoid inbreeding in accordance with the association’s European Breeding Program, the zoo’s scientific director, Bengt Holst, said in a statement.

“If an animal’s genes are well represented in a population, further breeding with that particular animal is unwanted,” Holst said. “As this giraffe’s genes are well represented in the breeding program, and as there is no place for the giraffe in the zoo’s giraffe herd, the European Breeding Program for Giraffes has agreed that Copenhagen Zoo euthanize the giraffe.”

Despite public outcry, which included an online petition to save the animal’s life signed by more than 27,000 people, EAZA defended the zoo’s decision to euthanize Marius. In a statement on its website the association said it strongly believes in the need for “genetic and demographic management” of animals under human care.

“EAZA’s breeding programs are at the forefront of efforts to safeguard endangered species, and are a key part of the worldwide strategy to prevent the actions of humans from destroying the future of the natural world,” it stated. “Our aim is to safeguard for future generations a genetically diverse, healthy population of animals against their extinction; Copenhagen Zoo is highly involved in these programs and took a transparent decision that the young animal in question could not contribute to the future of its species further, given the restraints of space and resources to hold an unlimited number of animals within our network and program, and should therefore be humanely euthanized.”

The U.S.-based Association of Zoos and Aquariums noted that Copenhagen Zoo is well known for the quality of its conservation programs. AZA also stated that its programs vary from EAZA’s.

“Zoos and aquariums in North America that are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums have a number of ways that they manage animal populations,” the association said. “Through the AZA Species Survival Plan program these methods include science-based breeding recommendations and cooperating to plan for adequate space. AZA’s Wildlife Contraception Center and AZA’s Population Management Center help AZA members with the expertise and planning to manage animal populations.”

Giraffes at the Copenhagen Zoo in 2013. (photo by Lars K. Jensen/Flickr)

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!