Marius the “Surplus”: Copenhagen’s Decision to Euthanize

Zoos having to put down animals is no new tragedy, but few do it Copenhagen style. The decision to euthanize an 18- month-old giraffe named Marius on Feb. 9 has garnered the Copenhagen Zoo primarily negative global attention.

Marius’s death by bolt pistol was made a spectacle, where visitors (both adults and children) watched Marius be shot, skinned, dismembered, and fed to lions living in the zoo.

What much of the international community has found more grotesque than his death is that Marius had several opportunities to be spared. A petition with 30,000 signatures begged for his life. In addition, several zoos, and even a private buyer, made generous offers to take the “surplus giraffe” into their care.

These efforts were rebuffed, however. The Copenhagen Zoo argues that Marius’s death was necessary as the zoo’s strict adherence to policies against in-breeding and neutering needed upheld. Additionally, an agreement with the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) forbids the zoo from giving animals to institutions outside of the EAZA, which the offers from other zoos were.

Apart from select specialists, the general public remains unconvinced that these policies are a legitimate foundation to secure such an elaborate death for Marius. Few have considered following the rules to be a greater concern than killing a young animal, including Stine Jensen from Denmark’s Organisation Against the Suffering of Animals. Quoted by the BBC, she remarked “It just shows that the zoo is in fact not the ethical institution that it wants to portray itself as being, because here you have a waste product – that being Marius.”

Those in defense of the zoo’s decision, namely the zoo’s scientific director Bengt Holst and zoo spokesman Stenbaek Bro, deemed Marius’s death as the only option. Holst told the BBC that “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.”

He also responded to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park’s offer that “any space [to take another giraffe] should be reserved for a genetically more important giraffe,” and that the efforts to save Marius had gone “much too far.”

Bro told the Associated Press he is “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,” in defense of the death being on exhibition.

Junior Adam Brown, an aspiring zoo keeper, does not share Holst and Bro’s sentiment, considering the decision an abuse of knowledge and power.

“In this particular situation the zoo is trying to manipulate the genetic diversity in giraffe populations so that inbreeding does not occur. This knowledge of genetics is driving this insensitive decision to kill the 2 year old giraffe. One of our flaws as humans is that we use our knowledge to control, instead of using the knowledge to just simply understand.”

Junior Carrie Schmaus described the zoo’s behavior as a “a poor excuse to kill an animal that could have been given to another institution, and it gives zoos and animal education a poor and violent image.”

A second Denmark zoo, the Jyllands Park Zoo, houses a seven year old giraffe also named Marius. Jyllands Park faced allegations from The Guardian that they too had plans to euthanize their Marius. However, the zoo denied these claims and assured that Marius was there to stay.

The actions of the Copenhagen Zoo has shed new light on issues of captivity and conservation, and whether or not wildlife are really safer in the hands of humans. Their decision also has implications for a need in reformation of zoo-keeping policies in regards to the treatment of unwanted animals.

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