Opinion: Killing Healthy Zoo Animals Is Wrong—And the Public Agrees

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Scientist calls lion, giraffe deaths "zoothanasia"—or heartless elimination.

The four lions killed by the Copenhagen Zoo this week, as well as  the healthy young giraffe named Marius put to death in February, didn't have to die.

A global uproar has followed the deaths of two African lions and their two ten-month-old cubs. Their lives ended because the zoo wants to introduce a new male to the remaining females to bear more lions.

The same outcry was heard when a healthy young giraffe named Marius, who had the wrong genes for the facility's breeding program, was killed with a bolt to his head—so as not to contaminate his body with poisons. The giraffe was publicly dissected and then fed to the zoo's carnivores, including lions.

None of the deaths were euthanasia, which is a mercy killing when an animal is suffering or lingering near death and must be "put down," as zoos always refer to such situations.

Rather, it was "zoothanasia," or killing done by zoo workers because an animal is no longer needed for one reason or another and is deemed to be a disposable object rather than a sentient being. 

The "Marius Effect"

Many people around the world were outraged by Marius's death. I call this the "Marius Effect."

Many of them had never previously voiced their opinion about the common killings of what are disparagingly called "surplus animals" by zoos, or had spoken out about other animal issues. 

While some workers at the zoo and elsewhere said the giraffe had to be killed because he didn't fit into the zoo's breeding program, and therefore couldn't be used as a breeding machine (like dogs at a puppy mill), countless others disagreed. An online petition asking the zoo to hold off on the killing until another home was found received tens of thousands of signatures.

Marius was killed despite the fact that another facility had offered him a home in which he could live out his life in peace and safety.

Many others and I figured that the negative attention that the late Marius brought to the Copenhagen Zoo would serve as a catalyst to change the breeding policies of zoos in Europe. We thought those responsible for killing him would reassess what they did and question their killing ways—even if such killings were required by existing regulations put forth by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA). 

Written By: Marc Bekoff
continue to source article at news.nationalgeographic.com

20 COMMENTS

  1. Cudos to the zoo for not letting outspoken public opinion sway it’s policy. The decision was made after sound rational consideration, and as a last resort. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to place them in another zoo, and releasing them to the wild is obviously not an option. These animals were killed under a lot less stress than most of the animals we turn into steaks and pork chops.
    The comments at the NGC site are mostly about how terrible it is to kill cuddly animals. Enough to make your head explode.

    • In reply to #1 by Mr. Stick:

      Cudos to the zoo for not letting outspoken public opinion sway it’s policy. The decision was made after sound rational consideration, and as a last resort. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to place them in another zoo, and releasing them to the wild is obviously not an option. These animals were k…

      Yeah. Kudos. For not managing your animals and not taking responsibility for it. Yeah…..Kudos…………

    • In reply to #1 by Mr. Stick:

      Cudos to the zoo for not letting outspoken public opinion sway it’s policy. The decision was made after sound rational consideration, and as a last resort. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to place them in another zoo, and releasing them to the wild is obviously not an option. These animals were k…

      Sorry Mr Stick but I see nothing rational about it.
      If they had been doing a mathematical experiment and needed to eliminate specimens from the hypothetical program, then, yup, it’s rational, but these are not generated computer code but animals. If it is rational to kill mammals in these cases, then why not primates … indeed any kind of primate.
      I know one or two accountants who have come into “run” companies who would like your ideas.
      The zoo is responsible for the well being of these animals until their natural death or another facility takes on the responsibility. They are not old furniture or assets that you can no longer deduct against tax, they are beings like you and me .. except they probably don’t kill for any other reason than to eat.

    • As to the Marius, his birth was a clear case of negligence from the zoo-workers, because one of their tasks is to take care about who mates with whom (and whether particular animal should mate at all). In addition, if they new, Marius was not a valuable breeding animal, then why wait so long? To make a bigger show?
      As to the lions, the first time I heard about them, I remembered our zoo, because zoo keepers have been telling that lions are very old for five or so years. However all of them ar still alive, so replying to questions by many, director of the Riga zoo answered that they could not take Danish lions, because otherwise they would have to euthanise ours. Though, if we consider purely rationally, without taking into account that lions are living beings, then our Zoo has missed perfect opportunity to get new lions for decent price.
      In reply to #1 by Mr. Stick:

      Cudos to the zoo for not letting outspoken public opinion sway it’s policy. The decision was made after sound rational consideration, and as a last resort. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to place them in another zoo, and releasing them to the wild is obviously not an option. These animals were k…

    • In reply to #1 by Mr. Stick:

      Cudos to the zoo for not letting outspoken public opinion sway it’s policy. The decision was made after sound rational consideration, and as a last resort. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to place them in another zoo, and releasing them to the wild is obviously not an option. These animals were k…

      I guess it’s not even worth the while to respond to your absurd comment. You think it’s honorable to kill healthy animals solely because they don’t conform to some managers view of a zoo that will attract more visitors? What is wrong with you?

  2. Killing healthy animals is wrong and the public agrees is a wonderfully emotive opinion, but as far as the public is concerned their images of these animals are forged by programmes such as those by David Attenborough and any enivitable outcry is not really based on common sense but only emotion such as this comment of the emotive use of a bolt gun.

  3. It’s a little late in the day but I would like to think that contraception would have helped eliminate the problem before it gets too cute, unless the lions are catholic of course.

    I think a public outcry is a good thing, not because cute animals should never be killed but because it is so easily avoided. I’ve got 2 kids and know how to avoid any more, hurry the fuck up Copenhagen Zoo!

  4. The best solution is not to have zoos at all, but good luck with that. So until then, I see no problem with killing healthy animals in a zoo. How many healthy cows are killed every year? Pigs? Sheep? Fish? How much healthy marine life is killed because it got stuck in someone’s net? I read about 70% of a catch can get thrown overboard. How many healthy animals are killed every year for fertilizer? Engine coolant? Lipstick?

    • In reply to #6 by A3Kr0n:

      Pigs? Sheep? Fish?

      Overfishing is a problem, at least they are consumed. Pigs, cows, and sheep are not endangered.

      How much healthy marine life is killed because it got stuck in someone’s net?

      Avoidable, but not premeditated.

    • In reply to #6 by A3Kr0n:

      The best solution is not to have zoos at all, but good luck with that. So until then, I see no problem with killing healthy animals in a zoo. How many healthy cows are killed every year? Pigs? Sheep? Fish? How much healthy marine life is killed because it got stuck in someone’s net? I read about 70%…As to the cows, pigs etc. – we are omniwores. Well, males may do without meat. Most likely, if they hav healthy gut, lead active lifestyle (2 x 40 minutes in the gymn per week does not count) …. However small children, old people, and especially women of reproductive potential need meat as sure source of all necessary amino acids, easily asimilated iron, etc.

    • In reply to #6 by A3Kr0n:

      The best solution is not to have zoos at all, but good luck with that. So until then, I see no problem with killing healthy animals in a zoo. How many healthy cows are killed every year? Pigs? Sheep? Fish? How much healthy marine life is killed because it got stuck in someone’s net? I read about 70%… Every time I hear vegans preaching about animals, I remember one professor of Molecular biology, who once said: the fact that tomato is not running around the table and screeming in pain, does not mean it feels OK about being eaten. HOWEVER I think there is a real virtue one should reamember about: eating in moderation. Also no booze, no tobacco, pot etc., because production of these causes stress on nature, but result for huma is diseases that can be treated only by stressing nature even more.

    • In reply to #6 by A3Kr0n:

      The best solution is not to have zoos at all, but good luck with that. So until then, I see no problem with killing healthy animals in a zoo. How many healthy cows are killed every year? Pigs? Sheep? Fish? How much healthy marine life is killed because it got stuck in someone’s net? I read about 70%…

      Well, if that’s the logic you promote then let’s put it to good use… The best solution is not to kill people at all, but good luck with that. So until then, I see no problem with killing a few people every now and then. How many people are killed every year? Arabs? Africans? Asians? They are tortured and killed or die of easily preventable diseases. How many people die because they were stuck in some political conflict or war for oil? I read about many millions…

  5. In reply to #5 by aroundtown:

    Zoo’s are funky from the get-go.

    I agree with your comments on animals not being different from us (it’s how I’ve always thought – from a kid) but the idea that they have a more “pristine existence” seems to ignore that similarity. Do weaver birds do too much work to be considered “pristine”? How about the recent discovery of gofers creating mounds all over the world on such a massive scale that no one even considered them animal made. Clearly as the 2nd most influential animal on the environment the beaver must be in the same “non-pristine” category as us? Beaver dams can be seen from space, try Google maps. What we are doing is just more of the same – evolution baby! Stop separating us when that’s your point. We are all animals.

    We are in our natural environment, if you want to go live in the woods without medicine of computers go ahead no-one is stopping you and many many do….

    If there is something important that you have “case aside”, go pick it up and stop asking other people to do it for you.

    This article was about culling zoo animals if you are against zoos your opinion is somewhat irrelevant and post nearly all off topic. For what it’s worth I know zoo’s do good work, not all of them but last week they did breed some endangered frogs, good news.

  6. In reply to #9 by aroundtown:

    In reply to #7 by alaskansee:

    In reply to #5 by aroundtown:

    Zoo’s are funky from the get-go.

    I agree with your comments on animals not being different from us (it’s how I’ve always thought – from a kid) but the idea that they have a more “pristine existence” seems to ignore that similarity. Do we…

    The fact that we act in the same way as all animals is where I agree with you. My argument was that while you make this statement it would be useful if you didn’t just immediately contradict it.

    For Example; The reason we divide up land into anything (leaving aside the irrelevant mater of squares or squiggles) is because we’re animals who want territories – like a pack of monkeys (which you used as an insult!). Every complaint you make against humans being not enough like animals seems to suggest that we are indeed more like animals than you imagine.

    For a current example of animals exhibiting “human-like” behaviour, Asian Carp leap to mind. Those animals, they’re so animalily they could be human animals! Or they, like us, are just behaving exactly like animals.

    Given our incredible animal brains it is of course incumbent on us to moderate our self destructive behaviour but I will have to stick to modifying my own animal behaviour as I don’t want to be a politician.

  7. I find this a little baffling. What kind of people with clear consciences want to go and see a animals caged in a zoo? Perfectly healthy animals are slaughtered every day, it’s called the meat industry and the vast majority of people will likely today be tucking into what was, until only a couple of days ago, a cute pig, cow, or sheep.

    I am not a vegetarian, and nor am I anti-zoo. So long as wild animals are not being trapped for my amusement I am happy to visit zoos. As long as I can reasonably determine that my food was treated with dignity up to and including the moment of slaughter then I’m quite happy to tuck in.

    If I am happy to eat meat slaughtered for my dinner plate then how can I object to the slaughter and consumption of a giraffe. The death of the Lions is a little strange but ultimately they are not pets, they are there to serve a commercial purpose.

    The only people who really can complain without being accused of hypocrisy are those that never consume animal products in any form and certainly not those that have attended this or any other zoo.

    • In reply to #15 by naskew:

      I find this a little baffling. What kind of people with clear consciences want to go and see a animals caged in a zoo? Perfectly healthy animals are slaughtered every day, it’s called the meat industry and the vast majority of people will likely today be tucking into what was, until only a couple of…

      Yes, hypocrisy. We are all hypocritical in more ways than most can even imagine. But, to use that as an excuse to criticize those rare moments when people actually do something good is just cynical and stupid. Like I wrote in another comment. It’s just as hypocritical to care about people who are killed in our western countries. I mean, countless people are killed in the third world and few cares. So why should we care about a few people being killed in our own countries? That is utter hypocrisy… but, it can also be described as normal human behavior. What I despise more than hypocrisy is cynicism. People who complain in those rare moments when people actually react towards acts of injustice or cruelty. They might not be hypocrites, they are rotten all through. The common hypocrite at least occasionally does the right thing. The cynic on the other hand just sits on his ass with a smug smile on his face. He takes pride in not being a hypocrite. Well, that is a quite small comfort if the option is to be an utter asshole 24/7…

  8. Why Marius had to go:
    http://www.zoo.dk/BesogZoo/Nyhedsarkiv/2014/Februar/Why%20Copenhagen%20Zoo%20euthanized%20a%20giraffe.aspx
    Why the lions had to go:
    http://www.zoo.dk/BesogZoo/Nyhedsarkiv/2014/Marts/Why%20Copenhagen%20Zoo%20made%20a%20change%20in%20the%20lion%20pride.aspx
    What’s important is the survival of the giraffe and lion species. The zoos involved in the breeding programs, like Copenhagen Zoo, do their bit. Which any sane person who cares the slighest about these things, should applaud. I certainly do. The bigger problem, though, is the loss of habitat for these wonderful species in the wild. And that loss of habitat is only due to one thing. The ridiculous overpopulation of humans. Something seriously needs to be done on that front.

    • In reply to #24 by DanDyn:

      Why Marius had to go:

      Pure bullshit. It’s possible to castrate giraffes. Yes, it involves certain risks but those risks are still better than a certain death.

      Why the lions had to go:

      Bullshit. The main reason they give is that the killings were made to prevent the old male from mating with his old relatives or the old female. Again, they could have just castrated the old male. They also list other less important reasons (or things to be taken into account). They needed a new male to be accepted into the pride. A castrated male does not necessarily display typical alpha male behavior. I’m also quite sure there would have been ways to isolate the old lions. They could have built a new cage for them to live in. It’s better than being killed. The same goes with the killings of the young sexually immature lions, which I find the most despicable. These could have been isolated with the old lions or in a cage of their own to be transported to other zoos and prides when the possibility arises. Or why not even allowed to roam free in their natural habitats in Africa? They might not have survived in the wild, they might have caused problems for other prides. Hey, that’s nature but it’s still better than certain death.

      It’s obvious that it’s really all about money and a lack of will to keep “problem” animals alive. So it’s just easier to kill them, and make up absurd excuses afterwards. If you don’t care about the deaths of animals, then fine. There’s hardly anything I can do to change your mind. But please, at least don’t be a hypocrite and try to justify these killings when there clearly were option to choose from. It’s just that these options cost more than killing these animals.

  9. Yeah, a US institution lecturing Scandinavians about morals, hehe, that’s a joke to say the least. This has been well documented in Scandinavian media thus no outcry here, we know why these animals were killed and we also know all zoos does this but this one is just open about it.

    And take the Giraffe that was slaughtered and fed to the lions. So if they hadn’t fed it to the lions, what would the lions have eaten that day? Cheetos and hot-pockets? No, they would have been fed another animal, a cow or pig, in no way more valuable than a giraffe with no breeding genes.

    About it being done in the open, yeah, I’m less than impressed with people in the US complaining over our view on education, it’s not really a country with a good track record in that regard. And I don’t care what you people think, I’d easily take my kid’s to see this for education, why would I care at all about what other people think about that? people who shield their kids from reality get kids who are poorly prepared to exist in that reality. It really is that simple.

    Oh, and I’m all for animal rights so before going all crazy about my statement, check how many animals are euthanized by PETA each year before you start whining about this. People’s gotta get a friggin grip about reality before having uneducated opinions about what is right and wrong – it’s about preservation of species, not single animals.

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