Marius The Giraffe's Tragic End Leads To Death Threats Against Copenhagen Zoo

Marius the giraffe gained national attention when he met a tragic and violent end. Staff at the Copenhagen Zoo made the decision to euthanize the healthy young giraffe, dismember him, and feed him to one of the zoo's lions. The news went viral when photos of the entire process were posted online.

It appears that the zoo used the tragedy as a publicity stunt. In the photos, a large audience can be seen witnessing the entire process. As reported by CNN, the spectators included numerous children, who watched from the front row.

The Copenhagen Zoo's Director of Research and Conservation, Bengt Holst, said the giraffe's death was necessary to ensure "a sound and healthy population." As the zoo has an extensive giraffe breeding program, there was concern that inbreeding would compromise the animals' health. Holst discusses the concerns:

"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."
Although a petition was started to spare the life of Marius the giraffe, the zoo went forward with their plan. Holst strongly defends the decision. He believes the story gained negative attention because "the giraffe is a nice looking animal." He said nobody would have noticed if it had been an antelope or a pig.

Many protesters were concerned that the children who witnessed the carnage would be upset. However, Holst said the entire audience was excited, including the children. Spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Brosaid the display was a learning experience for the children:

"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."

Although several organizations offered a home for Marius the giraffe, the zoo declined the offers. Holst said the giraffe would simply "take up space for more genetically valuable giraffes."

Despite his defense of the decision, Holst said he and his colleagues received numerous death threats through the telephone and e-mail.

The story is heartbreaking indeed. The Copenhagen Zoo's defense of the decision seems uncaring and cruel, which has contributed to the negative press. However, according to the Executive Director of European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, the zoo probably made the right decision.

Lesley Dickie said the organizations offering Marius the giraffe a home were not members of EAZA. Therefore the organization could not monitor the giraffe's living conditions or treatment. Dickie said the organization "cannot in good conscience recommend the transfer of animals... to zoos which are not [their] members and therefore not subject to [their] strict standards of animal husbandry and welfare... "

Dickie said castration could have led to unexpected medical complications and releasing the giraffe was out of the question. Although Dickie acknowledges the decision was difficult, he said the EAZA supports the Copenhagen Zoo, as they have an "exemplary record of animal welfare, education, research and conservation."

Although Marius the giraffe is gone, the debate is obviously far from over.

[Image via Shutterstock]