Danish Zoo Tries To Defend Public Giraffe Killing

After they euthanized a young, healthy male giraffe named Marius on Sunday, public outcry has forced the Copenhagen Zoo and the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) to respond. The two-year-old giraffe -- which was shot in the head with a bolt gun, publicly autopsied in front of a crowd and eventually fed to the zoo's lions -- has has inspired global opposition and protests, especially after several other facilities offered to take the animal in. Now, the zoo is publicly defending its actions, saying that Marius' genetic make-up wouldn't have been a match elsewhere.

"Our giraffes are part of an international breeding program, which has a purpose of ensuring a sound and healthy population of giraffes," Bengt Holst, scientific director at Copenhagen Zoo, told CNN. "It can only be done by matching the genetic composition of the various animals with the available space.... When giraffes breed as well as they do now, then you will inevitably run into so-called surplus problems now and then."

When asked about the possibility of sterilization, Holst said, "If we just sterilize him, he will take up space for more genetically valuable giraffes."

The EAZA supports for the zoo's decision, according to Jörg Jebram, who oversees the European endangered species program for giraffes. Jebram explained that because giraffe groups are often made up of one male and several females, Marius could not stay with his group, for fear of inbreeding.

Females are normally moved to a new breeding group when they are old enough. Bulls are sent to zoos that keep a bachelor group. When there are no females present, males can co-exist peacefully. In this case, there were no acceptable openings. Historically, many of the 347 zoos that belong to the Amsterdam-based European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) were eager to have giraffes of any kind. But in the past several years zoo breeding programs have produced enough of some subspecies.

The Copenhagen Zoo received two offers from other zoos willing to take Marius, but said that one already had an ample supply of Marius's genetic line, and the other offered no guarantee that Marius would not later be sold elsewhere.

A petitionsite.com/528/607/193/save-marius-the-giraffe-from-the-bolt-gun-now/">petition to save Marius received over 27,000 signatures. Now, a new petition has been created calling for Bengt Holst to be fired for killing the animal, with over 11,000 signatures.