In killing giraffe, Danish zoo fails basic test

  • Article by: EDITORIAL , Los Angeles Times
  • Updated: February 11, 2014 - 5:33 PM

Humans have responsibility to protect animals taken from their natural habitat.


Marius, a male giraffe, lies dead before being dissected, after he was put down at Copenhagen Zoo on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014. Copenhagen Zoo turned down offers from other zoos and 500,000 euros ($680,000) from a private individual to save the life of a healthy giraffe before killing and slaughtering it Sunday to follow inbreeding recommendations made by a European association. The 2-year-old male giraffe, named Marius, was put down using a bolt pistol and its meat will be fed to carnivores at the zoo, spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro said. Visitors, including children, were invited to watch while the giraffe was dissected.

Photo: Peter Hove Olesen • POLFOTO/AP,

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The killing of a young giraffe at a Danish zoo — after which the animal was publicly butchered and fed to a lion — breaks what should be the most inviolate if unwritten contract when humans remove wild animals from their natural habitat: to protect and keep healthy those animals and their descendants.

A spokesman for the Copenhagen Zoo said the killing with a bolt gun of the 2-year-old giraffe was done to prevent inbreeding of the zoo’s population. The zoo brushed off other options, such as giving the animal to another willing zoo (and there were several) or keeping it in a separate enclosure so that it would not breed. The zoo said it needed that space for more genetically useful animals.

The action, and the explanation, cast a harsh spotlight on the role of zoos, a role that is increasingly being questioned as we learn more about wild animals and their difficulties in captivity. Humans love zoos, and have for thousands of years. They entertain, delight and educate children and adults alike. But in recent years it has become clear that neither entertainment nor even education are enough; humans have weighty responsibilities that go with removing animals from the wild and putting them on display.

More than ever, zoos are taking responsibility for the well-being of their animals, which means keeping them alive and healthy as long as possible. That’s not what happened here.


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