Denmark Giraffe Marius, When Marius, a young male giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo, was shot to death by his keepers a few days ago, the world caught its breath. How could the zoo and Marius’s keepers do such a thing”particularly when people around the world were clamoring for the zoo to spare him?
Zoos, most of us think, are meant as safe havens for animals, places where they are loved and protected. Zoos tell us that they are educational places, too, where we can watch and learn about creatures we might otherwise never have a chance to see.
Zoos also bill themselves as the only places where certain highly endangered species, such as the Hawaiian crow, survive.
Indeed, zoos say this is why we need zoos. They’re the guardians of some of Earth’s rarest species, caring for them in captivity, and breeding them with the hopes of one day restoring them to the wild. Zoos, we’re told, are one of the best ways”and in some cases, the only way”to preserve a species and its genetic variability. (Read “Building the Ark” in National Geographic magazine.)
So why, then, would a zoo kill a healthy, young giraffe?
Bengt Holst, the Copenhagen Zoo’s scientific director, offered answers, but these only caused more alarm. It turns out that Marius’s species, the reticulated giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata), is not endangered in the wild. Plus, the zoo has a “surplus” of giraffes, especially males with genes similar to those of Marius. He did not fit into the zoo’s captive breeding program, or that of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria. And at 18 months old, past the cute stuffed-toy stage of a baby giraffe, Marius would soon be keen to mate.
According to the zoo’s calculations, Marius was of more use to it dead than alive.
So, Marius’s keeper lured him with a piece of rye bread, his favorite food, into a yard away from the other giraffes, and as he bent down his long neck to take the treat from his keeper’s hand, a veterinarian dispatched him with a shot from a bolt gun to his head.
Zoo patrons, including children, were then permitted to watch and learn about giraffe anatomy as the vet butchered Marius. “It helps increase the knowledge about animals but also the knowledge about life and death,” said Holst about the anatomy lesson. The giraffe’s remains were subsequently tossed into the lions’ den”which, some have said, would likely have been his fate anyway if Marius had lived in his natural environment, the African savannah.