Despite the death threats and worldwide disgust when the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark killed 2-year-old giraffe Marius to prevent inbreeding on Sunday, Feb. 9, a second zoo in the country plans to kill a giraffe -- and says it’s in the animal’s best interest.
The second giraffe, coincidentally also named Marius, lives at the Danish Jyllands Park Zoo. To make room for a female giraffe it plans to acquire, the zoo plans to put down its 7-year-old male, balancing out genders in the facility.
Why kill a giraffe?
Q: How did the zoo end up with a giraffe it couldn't keep?
A: Breeding groups in zoos are made up of a single bull and a group of females. Zoo's remove female offspring to prevent inbreeding, and males to prevent fighting.
Q: Aren't there other options?
A: Zoos could design new giraffe facilities, but many don't have that option. A young bull could theoretically be sent to an all-female group as stud, but experts prefer a larger, more mature male for that, and Marius didn't fit that bill.
Q: What about contraceptives or castration?
A: Yes and no. Until recently, either would have required sedation, which is a relatively high-risk operation with giraffes. They are liable to break their necks when they fall while sedated.
“We can't have two males and one female. Then there will be fights,” zoo keeper Janni Lojtved Poulsen told Danish news agency Ritzau. “If the breeding program coordinator decides that he should be put down, then that's what we'll do,” Poulsen said.
The first Marius was killed because his genes were already well represented in the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, which aims to maintain biodiversity and didn’t want an excess of similar genes. Despite an online petition arguing that the zoo should spare his life, Marius was shot in the head -- according to European zoo-keeping guidelines -- before being butchered and fed to lions.
Will the second Marius face a similar fate? It might be possible for the zoo to find another place for the giraffe to live, Reuters reported, but the probability of that is small. Like the first Marius, the Jyllands Park giraffe is considered unsuitable for breeding.
Poulsen defended the zoo’s plans, despite the widespread disgust of animal lovers.
“Many places abroad where they do not do this, the animals live under poor conditions, and they are not allowed to breed either. We don't think that's OK,” she said.
'We can't have two males and one female. Then there will be fights.'
- Zoo keeper Janni Lojtved Poulsen
The Jyllands Park Zoo has not said whether it will have a public dissection of its Marius similar to the one held at the Copenhagen Zoo.
The watchdog group Animal Rights Sweden said the plight of Marius underscores what it believes zoos do to animals regularly.
"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," the group 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.”