Horrifying Trend: Zoos Feeding Baby Giraffes to Lions
Every kid looks forward to spotting a giraffe at the local zoo. The gangly, long-legged animals are iconic. But in a horrifying turn of events, last Sunday officials at Copenhagen Zoo shot a two-year-old male giraffe in the head, then fed him to lions. In front of children.
The reason for the killing? The zoo participates in an international breeding program that aims to maintain viable species populations, and Marius—as his keepers called him—had well-represented genes that put the herd at risk of inbreeding.
Now a second zoo is threatening to do the same thing.
Public outcry grew quickly over the first killing. A petition garnered 27,000 signatures, several other zoos offered to shelter the animal, and there were protests during the shooting itself. Horrifying headlines and photos of Marius’ remains ignited international outrage online. The zoo’s officials, however, were steadfast—even after receiving death threats.
In a television interview before the slaying, Bengt Holst, the zoo’s scientific director, explained why other options weren’t employed. According to Holst, contraceptives have unwanted side effects that would’ve put the animal in poor condition. The zoo couldn’t release him into the wild either because, well, there’s no program to facilitate it. How about handing him to another park? Apparently, the strict stipulations imposed by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria prevent animals from being transferred to unaccredited zoos.
Three days after Marius was killed, another Denmark zoo announced a similar plan. Jyllands Park, which houses two male giraffes, will euthanize one of the animals when a female giraffe is acquired. In what can only be an ominous sign, his name is also Marius.
“Many places abroad where they do not do this, the animals live under poor conditions,” says Jyllands Park’s Janni Løjtved Poulsen. “We don’t think that’s OK.”
While emotional reactions are reasonable, many scientists agree with Poulsen and Holst. The Copenhagen Post recently spoke with a children’s development professor, Karen Pernille Hviid, and an animal ethics professor, Peter Sandøe, both from the University of Copenhagen.
About letting children watch the lions feast on Marius, Hviid said, “A young giraffe with big brown eyes has a natural appeal to us humans. But if you, as parents, expect Disney animals when you go to the zoo, then maybe you should not go there.”
Sandøe held naming the animals somewhat accountable for the controversy. Pigs, for instance, are “just a number.” He added, “They are animals we keep our distance from, in order to eat or sell them.”
Many advocates—including the Chechen president—have spoken out on behalf of Jyllands Park’s Marius, but his fate still lies with the zoo. For the seven-year-old giraffe, it’s not looking well.
“If we are told we have to euthanize [Marius] we would of course do that,” Poulsen told The Guardian. “[The controversy] doesn’t affect us in any way. We are completely behind Copenhagen and would have done the same.”