Should zoo animals be slaughtered in public?

The public slaughter of giraffe Marius in Copenhagen Zoo caused outrage not only among ordinary people but also among zoologists. According to experts, there was no scientific basis for the arguments in defense of this murder. Why did the administration choose to do this and why did zoo representatives provide false information? 

As a person with a degree in zoology who at the time had to kill animals for the sake of science, I find the tragic story of the public killing of giraffe Marius in Copenhagen Zoo (Denmark) to be an utterly pointless murder that cannot be justified by science. Furthermore, from the get go I was surprised by a stream of false information provided by the supervisor of the zoo Bengt Holst and Joerg Jebram, who oversees the European endangered species program for giraffes, two people who are required by their titles to be highly skilled experts.

Arguing the need to murder Marius in interviews with the press, Holst and Jebram said different things that have absolutely no scientific basis. The question is whether theses specialists deliberately lied, or did not understand what they were saying?

If the first option is correct, the true goals of the murder of Marius become incomprehensible. In the second case there is confusion over the fact that the European scientific organizations and programs are run by, mildly put, nonprofessionals. How could this happen?

Let's understand how justified was the reasoning of these two experts. According to Holst:

1. The giraffe was killed to maintain genetic diversity.

In advancing this argument, Mr. Holst referred to the requirements of the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA) that prohibited inbreeding. In fact, this rule is not hard, and in many cases EAZA still allows inbreeding. This happens when it comes to creating a backup of endangered species in captivity when so few animals left that any other type of breading is impossible. This is precisely what all zoos in Europe do, for example, with the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei), whose natural population totals only 700 individuals and zoos simply do not have genetically different partners for mating.

In addition, this rule does not apply to animals that once were in the "bottleneck" situation where due to some conditions their population fell to a minimum, and then was again restored. This happened with cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), naturally, as well as bison (Bison bonasus) and Przewalski horses (Equus przewalskii) as a result of their extermination and then restoration of the population through a few individuals living in captivity. The original wild population is made up of the descendants of a number of inbreeds, therefore prohibition of mating such animals in captivity means that their population could not be recreated.

There are exceptions to this rule in the documents of the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums. This means that the zoo staff could still fight for the life of Marius. However, they did not want to do this for unknown reasons. Another, no less strange argument, is this:

 2. Marius was a product of inbreeding and in the future could develop dangerous hereditary diseases.

There is no doubt that in some cases inbreeding may produce such an unpleasant effect. However, in order to understand whether the animal will be healthy in the future, a series of tests are required, including DNA tests. Only then can one determine whether the animal will develop a serious disease or not. No such tests have been conducted and, apparently, there was no intention to do so, despite their low cost in Europe.     

Based on theoretical assumptions alone no scientist can resolve such an important matter as the life and death of a living being. Nobody suggested killing the Danish royal couple immediately after birth on the sole ground that Queen Margrethe II of Denmark is a descendant of a series of closely related marriages between the royal dynasties of Europe. Why was Marius killed only on the basis of theoretical assumptions that in the future he could get sick?

Another odd argument:

3. Marius could not be transferred to other zoos in Europe because there were animals also related to him there, and finding a female for him would be impossible.

According to Mr. Jebram, the animal would feel discomfort due to the inability to have sex. Thus the death of Marius relieved him from further suffering from sexual dissatisfaction.

Joerg Jebram apparently is not sufficiently informed. In fact, many observations of the giraffes in captivity show that failure to reproduce does not affect the psyche and health of males. For example, a 20 -year-old giraffe Samson from the Moscow Zoo adored by visitors because of a charming show that he puts on begging for food, has never had sex. However, according to the zoo staff, this unfortunate circumstance never made Samson upset. No problems with his physiology due to lack of sex were observed.

Finally, it is unclear why Marius could not return to the wild.

4. Natural environment is full of dangers and Marius would have very few chances to survive.

In fact, nobody was going to take the giraffe back to the African savannah and leave him there. There are special rehabilitation programs for the return of animals to their natural habitat. Mr. Holst is either lying or showing his ignorance in this matter, claiming that there is no one in Europe to do it.

Durrell Wildlife Park (formerly Jersey Zoo) has a re-adaptation program founded by the great zoologist, naturalist and author Gerald Durrell. They have had thousands of successful returns of captive animals to their natural habitat. Why could they not ask them for help?  

It is clear that there was no scientific basis for the murder of Marius. On the contrary, there were plenty of options for him to live a long and happy life. In light of all the statements of the administration of the Copenhagen Zoo and experts from the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums the excuses that hide the true cause of this barbarous murder of a young giraffe for the amusement of the audience seem to be completely unfounded. What is hidden by the people who are supposed to be engaged in the conservation of biodiversity on our planet? Unfortunately, the answer to this question remains unknown.

Anton Evseev


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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov