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Danish zoo kills giraffe to prevent inbreeding

By Richard Steed and Malin Rising
Associated Press

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COPENHAGEN, DENMARK: Saying it needed to prevent inbreeding, the Copenhagen Zoo killed a 2-year-old giraffe and fed its remains to lions as visitors watched, ignoring a petition signed by thousands and offers from other zoos and a private individual to save the animal.

Marius, a healthy male, was put down Sunday using a bolt pistol, said zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro. Visitors, including children, were invited to watch while the giraffe was then skinned and fed to the lions.

Marius’ plight triggered a wave of online protests and renewed debate about the conditions of zoo animals. Before the giraffe was killed, an online petition to save it had received more than 20,000 signatures.

But the public feeding of Marius’ remains to the lions was popular at Copenhagen Zoo. Stenbaek Bro said it allowed parents to decide whether their children should watch what the zoo regards as an important display of scientific knowledge about animals.

“I’m 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,” Stenbaek Bro said.

He said the zoo, which now has seven giraffes left, followed the recommendation of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria to put down Marius because there already were a lot of giraffes with similar genes in the organization’s breeding program.

The Amsterdam-based EAZA has 347 members, including many large zoos in European capitals, and works to conserve global biodiversity and achieve the highest standards of care and breeding for animals.

Stenbaek Bro said EAZA membership isn’t mandatory, but most responsible zoos are members of the organization.

He said his zoo had turned down offers from other ones to take Marius and an offer from a private individual who wanted to buy the giraffe for $680,000.

Stenbaek Bro said a significant part of EAZA membership is that the zoos don’t own the animals themselves, but govern them, and therefore can’t sell them to anyone outside the organization that doesn’t follow the same set of rules.

He also said it is important for the breeding programs to work.

Bengt Holst, Copenhagen Zoo’s scientific director, said it turned down an offer from Yorkshire Wildlife Park in Britain, which is a member of EAZA, because Marius’ older brother lives there and the park’s space could be better used by a “genetically more valuable giraffe.”

Yorkshire Wildlife Park said it called the zoo Saturday with a last-minute offer to house Marius in a new giraffe house with room for an extra male. It said it was saddened by the killing of Marius, but “without knowing the full details it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

Copenhagen Zoo also turned down an offer from a zoo in northern Sweden, because it was not an EAZA member and didn’t want to comply with the same high standards, Holst said.


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