Zoo euthanasia a tragic but inevitable reality

Last Sunday, Copenhagen Zoo euthanized an 18-month-old giraffe named Marius via bolt gun to the head. Afterward, the giraffe was dissected in front of a crowd of zoo-goers and fed to the lions, according to CNN.

The death of Marius has been met with public outcry, especially given that a petition to save the healthy young giraffe’s life circulated the Internet and failed. While the death of the giraffe was tragic, the zoo was well within its rights to kill the animal. Copenhagen Zoo supporters claim that the giraffe was euthanized to conserve space and resources, as well as to avoid inbreeding. The zoo also claimed that Marius’s genetic makeup was already well represented in his breeding program, according to NPR.

Copenhagen Zoo critics claim that the zoo killed Marius because it was no longer cost effective to keep him; he was no longer a baby animal that brought in crowds. Some have suggested that Marius could have been sent to a different zoo, or released, or simply kept near Copenhagen. But none of these solutions are as easy as they seem, and all cost money.

This debate brings up important questions about the role and purpose of zoos. Our cultural image of zoos is that of a place where endangered animals are conserved, but this view is overly simplistic. Zoos serve as conservation centers for endangered animals, but they are also institutions with limited resources, and keeping animals — especially long-living animals — is not cheap. The zoo does not have endless resources to funnel into the preservation of all of their animals, especially ones that are not genetically rare and, therefore, in need of special preservation effort.

This reality is neither clean nor pretty, but that does not change the circumstances and problems that these zoos face.

Admittedly, perhaps the zoo should not have performed a public autopsy on the animal, but even that was a rare, voluntary opportunity for any zoo-goers who wished to learn about giraffe anatomy. As for feeding the body to the lions, while again the zoo could have been more sensitive about the public nature of the disposal of Marius’s remains, feeding the meat to other animals that require it to live is not something shameful.

Marius’s death was certainly tragic and unfortunate because he was a unique living thing, but each of the 10.2 million land animals killed for food in the United States in 2011 was a special living thing as well. The Copenhagen Zoo merely made the mistake of putting the manner and aftermath of the animal’s death within the sphere of public knowledge.