Copenhagen Zoo Criticized For Giraffe Killing

Feb 10, 2014

Saying it needed to prevent inbreeding, the Copenhagen Zoo killed a 2-year-old giraffe and fed its remains to lions as visitors watched, ignoring a petition signed by thousands and offers from other zoos and a private individual to save the animal.

Marius, a healthy male, was put down Sunday using a bolt pistol, said zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro. Visitors, including children, were invited to watch while the giraffe was then skinned and fed to the lions.

Bro says he and the zoo’s scientific director, Bengt Holst, received several threats over the telephone and in emails.


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Did you see the picture? A giraffe lying on the ground. He's just been killed, shot with a stun gun by vets at the Copenhagen Zoo, who then proceed to cut him up and feed him to other animals, all in front of an audience including children. It's causing an uproar. So we brought in Vicki Croke, author of "The Modern Ark: The Story of Zoos: Past, Present, and Future" and co-producer of The Animalist blog on to help us understand all this. Hi, Vicki.

VICKI CROKE: Hey, Robin.

YOUNG: Well, you know, the zoo says they had to do this, that they - the zoo is part of a breeding program in Europe and they had a surplus of giraffes with the same genetic makeup as Marius, the giraffe. But of course, critics are saying, well, so, castrate Marius if you didn't want him to reproduce. To which the zoo then said, he would take up space for more genetically valuable giraffes. Huh? Does this happen?

CROKE: I've been covering zoo issues for 20 years, and we just don't see that here. We used to. In 1990, we had a couple of cases like this, where healthy Siberian - endangered Siberian tigers were euthanized. But no this it totally...

YOUNG: Because of the same reason, they had extra genetic makeup and didn't need them?

CROKE: Right. We have a very - we have a captive population. We have only so many slots within each zoo. And we have to manage that population with the propagation of certain species in mind. It's complicated. But what the zoo did in Copenhagen is unnecessary and hypocritical.

YOUNG: Well, hypocritical because?

CROKE: We use - zoos use individual animals to draw the public in and to raise money. And then when people care about an individual animal being put to sleep, they say that we're being sentimental and we need to look at the population in a broader way and not individually anymore.

YOUNG: Yeah. So you're saying they play on our emotions about the animals and then accuse us of having emotions when an animal is killed. Well, the zoo was asked why they couldn't just move Marius. There were a lot of offers from other zoos. And a zoo spokesperson - actually a spokesperson for the whole European group that runs zoos and aquariums said, well, we can't do that because we couldn't risk having them go to a zoo that doesn't have our standards. So...

CROKE: Right. The European Zoo Association disagrees with the American Zoo Association on this very issue. The fact of the matter is several places offered to take Marius, and they could have - he could have gone there. And the other argument is that they couldn't take the chance of sterilizing him because giraffes don't react well to anesthesia. But let's face it. A 50-50 chance is better than a hundred percent chance that you're going to be killed.

YOUNG: Well - and you say, though, that you're sympathetic that there are surplus problems, animals that are beloved one year and not the next. So you go to conventions here and what do you see, you see the list at the conventions.

CROKE: At all zoo conventions here in the United States we see lists and lists of surplus animals. Sometimes they're older. Sometimes they're overrepresented at that zoos genetic population. And sometimes it's that have we flavors of the month. Sometimes warthogs are in vogue and everyone wants a warthog. And then a few years, another animal becomes popular. And the way you keep crowds coming in by pleasing the public, and so they have to go but...

YOUNG: But here in the U.S., they try to move them around to other zoos.

CROKE: That's right.

YOUNG: Can you say this isn't - this kind of public euthanization isn't done here in the U.S. now?

CROKE: No. If it's done, it's done very rarely and we then don't know about it. And, you know, the other factor is not just the public who cares deeply. It's the people who work there, too, get attached.

YOUNG: By the way, very, very quickly, you want to impart a more hopeful story about giraffes right here in our backyard?

CROKE: Right here in Boston, we have miracle giraffe named Bo, who is the only survivor of giraffe-wasting disease in the world, as far as we know.

YOUNG: And a lot of effort was put in to saving that one animal because you say that's the point. One animal does count.

CROKE: One animal counts for everybody. And that's what we're - that's what zoos should be teaching people.

YOUNG: By the way, I'm having lunch with Bo...


YOUNG: the spring. So...

CROKE: I know he likes breakfast cereal.

YOUNG: Of course, part of the fundraiser to support Bo. So, Vicki Croke, author of "The Modern Ark," also the co-producer of The Animalist blog on We'll link to it. Vicki, thanks so much.

CROKE: Thank you, Robin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.