current affairs

Why did Marius the Giraffe really have to die?

A young giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo has recently been euthanized which has basically been a PR disaster.

A young giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo has recently been euthanized which has basically been a PR disaster. He was called Marius and many are justifiably outraged, labelling his death to be cruel and unethical as he was born fit and healthy.

It also caused a lot of internet uproar when the post mortem of Marius was broadcast live which showed him being skinned and fed to lions in front of a crowd of visitors, including schoolchildren to teach them about ‘nature.’

Thousands had signed an online petition appealing for a change of heart over the two-year-old giraffe, but to no avail. Several institutions including the UK’s Yorkshire Wildlife Park had offered to house Marius, but were also rejected.

So why did Marius have to die? It seems absurd to kill a young animal, especially one that is physically healthy. Copenhagen zoo claimed that it had “no choice” in the matter due to the risk of inbreeding. Marius had genes that were allegedly very similar to those of other giraffes in the breeding program at the zoo, as Marius’ parents had already produced other offspring.

Makes no sense

Breeding animals that are genetically similar can increase the chance that harmful genes are expressed in the offspring, which can lead to birth defects and diseases. These issues can be seen in plenty of dog breeds which are bred for physical features alone for shows such as Crufts.

West Highland terriers often suffer from bad allergies, while other breeds experience much more harmful consequences. Cavelier King Charles spaniels can suffer from brain defects that stunt the growth of the skull, leaving them to endure tremendous pain and fitting.

However, Marius was not a dog. Also there was nothing to suggest that he had any dangerous genes at all. In fact, a spokesperson for the breeding program admitted that Marius was not even particularly inbred, nor was he suffering from any identifiable heath problems.

So, seriously, why did Marius have to be shot with a bolt gun if there was no identifiable risk? The same spokesperson commented that Marius could not “add anything further to the breeding programme that does not already exist,” presumably meaning that they had all the genes he could offer already available to them.

That doesn’t sound like a particularly valid justification for the death of an innocent animal, especially when there were plenty of offers to save him.

The zoos that offered Marius salvation were turned down for similar reasons.  Marius’ brother is currently at the park in Yorkshire, so the extra space should apparently be saved for a more “genetically valuable” giraffe.

When did it start being appropriate for people to decide what makes an animal valuable enough to survive? Rather than providing any sort of valuable experience for those watching the dissection, this situation has instead exposed the dark side of the captivity industry, something which the public have previously known little about.

The stupidity of the zoo in dissecting the giraffe in the public eye has caused a tragic blow to their reputation and revealed the sinister methods they use to dispose of animals that they do not want or need. They basically considered Marius a waste product.

Thankfully, this story has not been a widely accepted as tolerable. Robert Krijuff, the director of a wildlife park in the Netherlands, had his last-minute offer of saving Marius also rejected. He said: “I can’t believe it. We offered to save his life. Zoos need to change the way they do business.”

A statement by the RSPCA said it was “extremely saddened to hear the story of this poor giraffe.”

Angry reactions

Senior staff at the zoo have reportedly been receiving death threats from the moment Marius was put down, including the zoo’s scientific director, Bengt Holst. He has said that it is not uncommon for 20-30 healthy animals a year to be put down in his zoo, and he would not alter his style of animal management.

 It should hardly be a surprise that he got hate mail. If the zoo didn’t predict there would be an outcry at their decision then they must all be incredibly naive. Death threats do seem a bit extreme, but it would be ridiculously ignorant to think that people would not be upset by their shamelessly public methods.

Peter Sandoe is well acquainted with the zoo and is the professor of bioethics at the University of Copenhagen. He has said that he has sympathised with the decision to put down the giraffe for more reasons that are vague and irrelevant. He said that watching the giraffe being fed to lions “a very good picture of what nature is like” for the children.

(As a Zoologist, I’d just like to point out that it is pretty rare for even a pack of lions to take down a giraffe, as the risk of injury is too great. If and when they are successful, is hardly ever skinned and conveniently thrown over a zoo fence for them in bite-size chunks).

On the subject of perhaps using contraception to prevent the production of such “useless” giraffes, he continued on to say: “You’re already taking away a lot of the natural behaviour by putting them behind a fence. If you take away their ability to procreate, you are taking away even more of their natural life.”

I really hope he sees the irony in that.

What do you think of the actions surrounding the death of Marius? Have your say in the comments section below.