Skip to main content

Why arguments for killing of giraffe Marius don't stand up to scrutiny

By Liz Tyson, animal rights campaigner, Special to CNN
February 10, 2014 -- Updated 2130 GMT (0530 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Copenhagen zoo's defense of killing a giraffe does not stand up to scrutiny, writes Liz Tyson
  • A blind eye has been turned to the inbreeding of other species, she says
  • Tyson: Killing animals considered a surplus by zoos is common
  • As long as there are zoos, there will be unwanted animals, she writes

Editor's note: Liz Tyson is Director of UK charity, The Captive Animals' Protection Society (CAPS). She previously lived and worked in the Colombian Amazon on conservation projects. She is a board member of conservation charity Neotropical Primate Conservation and a doctoral researcher at the University of Essex, School of Law. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely hers.

(CNN) -- The killing of a young giraffe named Marius at Copenhagen Zoo sparked international outrage this weekend. On Sunday, he was shot with a bolt gun then publicly dissected before being fed to the lions.

In its defense, the zoo has argued that Marius' death was necessary to protect the genetic diversity of his species. It was claimed that to allow Marius to take up space that could be used to house another animal with more desirable genetic make-up may hinder conservation breeding programs.

Contraception which required sedation is dangerous and giraffes might die during the procedure. As such, Marius' birth could not have been safely prevented. Marius could not be rehomed because sending him somewhere other than a zoo which was a member of the European Association for Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) could result in him being sold into a circus, which would be against EAZA rules. In effect, the zoo's hands were tied, it was implied.

Liz Tyson
Liz Tyson

None of these arguments appear to stand up to scrutiny.

As the head of the European endangered species program for giraffes stated in press, Marius was not from a rare sub-species.

Given that zoos claim that animals are kept in order to support the conservation of threatened species, it is therefore unclear why any member of Marius' subspecies should be held captive at all.

Zoo staff get death threats

Zoo director debates giraffe decision
Zoo puts down healthy giraffe

It was further confirmed that a contraceptive for giraffes has been developed in the last few years which allows females to be safely injected at a distance thus suggesting that Marius' birth was not inevitable.

A Danish zoo has euthanized a healthy male giraffe, named Marius, saying it had a duty to avoid inbreeding. This photo of the giraffe was taken on February 7. The 18-month-old giraffe was put down with a bolt gun on Sunday, February 9, according to a zoo spokesman. A Danish zoo has euthanized a healthy male giraffe, named Marius, saying it had a duty to avoid inbreeding. This photo of the giraffe was taken on February 7. The 18-month-old giraffe was put down with a bolt gun on Sunday, February 9, according to a zoo spokesman.
Danish zoo kills healthy giraffe
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
Photos: Danish zoo kills healthy giraffe Photos: Danish zoo kills healthy giraffe

The director of EAZA supported the stance that Marius had to die and encouraged people to consider the "bigger picture." But EAZA itself is less than consistent in its approach to inbreeding and, indeed, in its concern for the ultimate fate of animals in its member zoos.

EAZA and similar zoo bodies discourage member zoos from deliberately breeding white lions; a practice which is recognized as involving inbreeding in order to perpetuate the unusual white coloring of the animals involved.

Due to the serious welfare implications and the lack of conservation value of inbred animals, breeding of white lions is theoretically not allowed in EAZA zoos. In practice, both West Midland Safari Park and Paradise Wildlife Park in the UK breed white lions.

Both are EAZA members and yet, despite vociferously supporting the killing of Marius to prevent the same problem, a blind eye has been turned by EAZA to the persistent inbreeding of other species in its zoos. White lions are, perhaps tellingly, a great crowd pleaser.

In 2012 West Midland Safari Park were revealed to have sent four white lions to a circus trainer, who sent them on to a Japanese circus. That the safari park remains an EAZA member means that the rules on sending animals to non-EAZA collections are not consistently applied. Despite this, no exception was made for Marius.

In fact, rather than Marius being a tragic exception, the killing of animals considered to be surplus to requirements by zoos is something which is common in the industry. A 2003 study suggested that there are around 7,500 animals deemed "surplus" in European zoos at any one time.

Whilst it cannot be undone, Marius' death has served an important purpose in shining a spotlight on a practice which is normally kept well-hidden from public view. As long as there are zoos, there will be unwanted animals. And as long as there are unwanted animals, more like Marius will be killed.

It has long been recognised that conservation success is achieved not in city centre zoos or safari parks, but in natural habitats. We would urge anyone with a passion for conservation to support effective in situ efforts which are truly making a positive impact on species conservation.

READ: Why Copenhagen zoo was right to cull giraffe

READ: Danish zoo kills healthy giraffe, feeds body to lions

READ: Marius the giraffe: Copenhagen zoo staff get death threats

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Liz Tyson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 2001 GMT (0401 HKT)
The U.S. has promised to supply and train "acceptable" rebels in Syria to counter ISIS. But who are they and are can the strategy work?
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 0257 GMT (1057 HKT)
Do the Chinese really like to mix their Bordeaux with Coca-Cola?
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 1208 GMT (2008 HKT)
Al Qaeda's new Syrian branch, Khorasan, is seeking new ways to attack America and Europe, with a top U.S. intelligence official saying it has "aspirations for attacks on the homeland."
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 0039 GMT (0839 HKT)
Branded an "extremist" by China's state-run media, Joshua Wong isn't even old enough to drive.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 0655 GMT (1455 HKT)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprised political pundits with his rapid rise to power. CNN meets the man behind the enigma.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
Liverpool's Italian forward Mario Balotelli reacts during the UEFA Champions League Group B match between Liverpool and Ludogorets Razgrad at the Anfield stadium in Liverpool on September 16, 2014.
British police launched an investigation into abusive tweets sent to Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli.
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 2344 GMT (0744 HKT)
A woman who was texting her husband before he was killed reflects on the Westgate attack.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
The real secret to a faster commute has been with us all along -- the bus.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1316 GMT (2116 HKT)
13 brands retained their Top 20 status from last year, according to an annual survey.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1549 GMT (2349 HKT)
Think your new tattoo is cool? Look at how our ancestors did it and think again.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 1052 GMT (1852 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT