In Depth

Did Copenhagen Zoo have to kill Marius the giraffe?

A two-year-old giraffe at the zoo was killed over the weekend after on online petition to save his life was rejected

ZOOKEEPERS at Copenhagen Zoo ignored an online petition that gathered over 27,000 signatures over the weekend in a bid to prevent the death of Marius the giraffe. 

In spite of receiving death threats, the zoo's scientific advisor Bengt Holst was unrepentant about his decision to euthanise Marius. Copenhagen Zoo is part of a breeding programme, and its bylaws explicitly prohibit inbreeding in order to maintain the overall health of the herd, and, Holst noted, Marius's genes were already overrepresented in the stock.

"Giraffes today breed very well, and when they do you have to choose and make sure the ones you keep are the ones with the best genes," Holst told the BBC. The two-year-old giraffe was killed publicly with a bolt gun, and the body was fed to the zoo's lions.

But did Marius need to die? A number of alternatives to euthanasia were presented to the zoo:

Other zoos offered Marius a home

Just before the weekend, several zoos volunteered to take Marius. Representatives from Yorkshire Wildlife Park near Doncaster offered to re-home the giraffe: "YWP has a state-of-the-art giraffe house built in 2012 with a bachelor herd of four male giraffes and the capacity to take an extra male, subject to the agreement of the European stud book keeper," a statement from Yorkshire Wildlife Park said. "One of the YWP giraffes is Palle, who came from Copenhagen zoo in September 2012, when he was the same age as Marius."

The offer was rejected because the Copenhagen zoo said the park was already well-represented with giraffes from Marius's genetic line.

Another offer from a zoo in Sweden was similarly discounted because the zoo in question could not promise it would not sell Marius on, Time magazine reports.

Marius could have been sent to a game reserve in Africa

Could Marius have been sent to the savannas of Africa to resume a life in the wild? Copenhagen zoo said this was not an option as animals that have been in contact with humans tend to be rejected by wild herds, and become easy prey for predators.

Marius could have been sold

Various papers report that a "private individual" offered to buy Marius for €50,000 (£41,000), but received no response. The zoo issued a statement to say that without further details it would be inappropriate for them to comment.

Marius could have been chemically castrated to prevent inbreeding

Some signatories to the petition argued that the giraffe could have been chemically castrated to avoid continuation of an undesirable genetic line. Holst countered that such measures could not have been taken because they tend to cause unwanted side-effects such as renal failure. Neutering the young giraffe, Holst said, "would have diminished his quality of life."

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