Giraffe Killing at Copenhagen Zoo Sparks Global Outrage

A healthy male giraffe was euthanized because its genes didn't add to the diversity of the zoo population.

Marius, a healthy male giraffe, lies dead after he was euthanized at Copenhagen Zoo on February 9, 2014. Visitors, including children, were invited to watch while the giraffe was dissected.


On Sunday morning, shortly after a last meal of his favorite rye bread, an otherwise healthy 18-month-old male giraffe named Marius was killed with a slaughterhouse bolt gun at the Copenhagen Zoo.

Afterward, zoo officials performed a three-hour-long demonstration of how to butcher a giraffe before a large crowd of visitors, including many children. The meat was then fed to the zoo's lions.

"When breeding success increases it is sometimes necessary to euthanize," Bengt Holst, the zoo's scientific director, said in a statement on the giraffe's death. "We see this as a positive sign and as insurance that we in the future will have a healthy giraffe population in European zoos."

Marius's death and very public dismemberment sparked outrage on social media, prompted death threats against staff at the zoo, and was seen by some animal lovers as provocative response to a campaign to spare the giraffe's life in the days and hours leading up to his death.

An online petition asking the Copenhagen Zoo to hold off on killing its unwanted giraffe until an alternate home could be found for him received over 27,000 signatures from around the world but was ignored by the zoo. So were offers by wildlife parks in Britain, Sweden, and the Netherlands to take Marius off their hands rather than see him killed.

Lions at Copenhagen Zoo eat the remains of the euthanized young giraffe.


Inbreeding Worries

Officials at the Copenhagen Zoo, on the other hand, maintain they had no real alternatives to euthanizing Marius because he could play no role in their breeding program or in any other breeding program in Europe, due to the risk of inbreeding.

"Copenhagen Zoo's giraffes are part of an international breeding programme which aims at ensuring a healthy giraffe population in European zoos. This is done by constantly ensur[ing] that only unrelated giraffes breed so that inbreeding is avoided," Holst said in the statement.

"If an animal's genes are well represented in a population further breeding with that particular animal is unwanted. As this giraffe's genes are well represented in the breeding programme and as there is no place for the giraffe in the Zoo's giraffe herd the European Breeding Programme for Giraffes has agreed that Copenhagen Zoo euthanize the giraffe." The European Breeding Programme for Giraffes oversees zoo populations in the European Union.

Holst added that the zoo regularly has to cull surplus animals and that the need to euthanize the giraffe pointed to an overall successful breeding program for giraffes.

Castration or chemical birth control, Holst said, would not have been useful options. Marius's place in the zoo would be better served by a giraffe whose genes would add to the diversity of the population, he said.

Sanctuary Denied

Others are less convinced. "I can't believe it," said Robert Kruijif, director of a wildlife park in the Netherlands, who made a last-minute offer to take Marius rather than have him put down. "We offered to save his life. Zoos need to change the way they do business."

Staff at England's Yorkshire Wildlife Park made a similar offer over the weekend, citing their state-of-the-art giraffe facilities that had space for an additional male giraffe, and the fact that they had accepted one of the Copenhagen Zoo's surplus giraffes as recently as 2012. They later released a statement saying they were "saddened" to learn of Marius's death but declined to comment further.

The international furor over the death of the giraffe was in stark contrast to the relatively low-key reaction to the euthanizing of six healthy lions at Britain’s Longleaf Safari Park the same day. The park received criticism on its Facebook page, but nothing on the level of opprobrium, let alone death threats, that staff at the Copenhagen Zoo received.

A great deal of outrage was voiced about the death of the giraffe on Twitter:

The Guardian

Marius The Giraffe

James Bennet

The old petition to save Marius closed on news of his death. A new petition—to sack Bengt Holst as scientific director of the Copenhagen Zoo—was started this morning and now has more than 2,000 signatures.