Why Did Zoo Kill Giraffe Instead of Sterilizing It?

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Copenhagen Zoo employees on Sunday killed a young male giraffe named Marius because he wouldn’t serve as good breeding stock. On Sunday morning, the animal was fed to lions after being euthanized with a bolt gun, then dissected in public. Zoo officials explained their decision on the zoo’s website and to the press.

Sterlizing the unwanted giraffe would have burdened the zoo with a unwanted animal, the zoo said.

“If we just sterilize him, he will take up space for more genetically valuable giraffes,” Bengt Holst, scientific director at the Copenhagen Zoo, told CNN.

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The zoo doesn’t use contraceptives to prevent unwanted giraffe births.

“In Copenhagen Zoo we let the animals breed naturally,” said Holst on the zoo’s website. “Contraceptives have a number of unwanted side effects on the internal organs and we would therefore apply a poorer animal welfare if we did not euthanize.”

The giraffe was euthanized despite more than 27,000 signatures on a petition to save it, reported CNN. One person even offered to pay 500,000 euros ($680,000) for the giraffe, reported the BBC.

The Yorkshire Wildlife Park in England and a wildlife park in the Netherlands both offered to provide a home for the giraffe, reported National Geographic.

However, breeding program officials believed selling or giving away the giraffe could have resulted in more problems, too.

“A final option is sending the giraffe to a zoo that doesn’t participate in the EAZA-led breeding program, but that could leave the giraffe or its offspring being sold into worse circumstances, such as those of a circus or private collection,” Joerg Jebram, an official with the European Breeding Programme for Giraffes.

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The euthanized giraffe didn’t have the right pedigree to justify his existence as a stud in a giraffe herd, according to zoo officials. The Copenhagen Zoo participates in the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria captive breeding program. Veterinarians and biologists monitor the animals’ family trees and DNA codes to avoid inbreeding and increase genetic diversity.

"If an animal’s genes are well represented in a population, further breeding with that particular animal is unwanted,” said Bengt Holst, scientific director at the Copenhagen Zoo, on the zoo’s website. “As this giraffe’s genes are well represented in the breeding program and as there is no place for the giraffe in the Zoo’s giraffe herd, the European Breeding Program for Giraffes has agreed that Copenhagen Zoo euthanize the giraffe.”

Photo: A healthy young giraffe named Marius was put down and autopsied in the presence of visitors to the gardens at Copenhagen zoo on Feb. 9, despite an online petition to save it. Credit: Keld Navntoft/AFP/Getty Images