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Zoos Should Let Surplus Animals Be Pets Instead of Killing Them

The giraffe that sparked the international debate

After the euthanasia of Marius the giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo, my Facebook wall was literally flooded with comments from my various animal-oriented friends, most of which were critical of the zoo's decision. The untimely, but ultimately humane death of a single giraffe has gone on to spark unprecedented and international outrage, causing the story to trend in every major news outlet—a PR nightmare for the zoo in question.

Many people may not be aware that the culling of surplus zoo animals is not a recent invention. A few weeks ago, six lions at Longleat Safari Park in England were culled, and this surprisingly did not receive the same attention, perhaps due to the lack of the sensationalistic headline that the euthanized animals were fed to other zoo animals. Other animals that have been culled at Copenhagen Zoo include zebras, hippos, tigers, and antelopes.

Copenhagen's misfortune was making the decision to cull an animal that, for whatever reason, majorly tugs on the heartstrings of the public, and having the situation discovered and put on blast by the mainstream media. These circumstances further solidify the fact that social media, as Blackfish has taught another popular aquatic zoo, cannot be underestimated.

At the time of this writing, news of Marius' killing has resulted in:

  • Death threats to Zoo staff
  • The Copenhagen Zoo's website crashing (or intentionally being disabled)
  • A slew of one star ratings for the zoo's Google review page
  • A petiton to get the zoo's scientific director, Bengt Holst, to resign, and it has at the time of this writing gathered over 39,000 signatures.
Giraffe herd at Copenhagen Zoo

Giraffe herd at Copenhagen Zoo

Let's get one thing straight off the bat; I personally feel that euthanizing the giraffe was the wrong decision to make, but I hope to assuage tensions of whichever side might stumble upon this article, by illustrating the perspectives of the polarizing mindsets involved, although it might do the opposite.

As someone who would have liked to see the giraffe remain alive I have this to say: the idea that it is somehow cruel, barbaric, or evil to euthanize the animal under the conditions of which it was culled is utterly without merit. The word 'speciesism' is generally applied by supporters of animal rights, or more specifically, animal liberation, which I firmly stand against, but here the term perfectly describes the attitude that many unknowingly take toward certain non-domesticated, charismatic animals.

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A red river hog cull doesn't receive the same attention

A red river hog cull doesn't receive the same attention

The power of the giraffe

The birth of a baby giraffe, eventually named Sandy Hope after the results of an anticipated naming contest for the calf, propelled an unknown private zoo (that participates in species survial programs) into the spotlight, and now the Copenhage Zoo, after killing the same iconic species, has received similar attention, dramatically gravitating in the other direction.

A giraffe is a beautiful animal, distinctive due to impressive patterns and its distinctive towering neck, making it the world's largest land animal and one of Africa's main stars and attractions. Giraffes, except for a sub-species called the Rothschild's giraffe (the species of Sandy Hope) are not endangered. They are even-toed ungulates, just like deer, bison, hippopotamuses, antelope, goats, and even cows. I'm sure the reader can discern where I'm going with this.

A giraffe may be more impressive to human eyes, and a giraffe may not be as populous as cattle, goats, and pigs, but they are, as individuals, not more worthy than these domesticated animals or more 'deserving of life', whatever that may mean. While someone may dispute my comparisons to animals like cows and other 'higher' animals that are presumably more 'intelligent' (like killer whales), most would agree that giraffes and cows have a strong degree of similarity cognition-wise.

So how can the outrage be justified when not only was the animal humanely euthanized, it also lived a much better life than many agricultural animals? Regardless of whether the person exclaiming "cruelty" is a vegan or omnivore, the fact remains that a single giraffe's death is receiving far more attention than the hundreds of deaths that likely just took place after I finished writing this paragraph, to feed both humans and zoo animals. The favoritism regarding certain DNA arrangements is not a new phenomenon, and prevails amongst many controversial subjects that, if ignorance were not a factor, would have been put to rest ages ago.

The killing was unnecessary

Yet I still don't believe the giraffe should have been put down...why is this? Conscious, conversation-minded facilities do have sound reasons for dispatching surplus animals and they have been thoroughly explained by the zoo's officials. Accredited zoos do not want to potentially jeopardize their animal's well-being by implementing contraceptives or sterilization techniques. Accredited zoos do not want to sell or give away animals to facilities that may have 'poor' standards or may re-distribute the animal to another zoo with poor standards. Accredited zoos do not want animals taking up space and consuming resources if they are not contributing to the propagation of their species, which is why zoos are 'supposed' to be here in the first place.

My problem with these reasons is that the latter sentence simply isn't true. I think most of us are all aware of the main reason why zoos exist, and even zoo keepers are apt to brag about this fact: zoos enrich our lives and help us 'share a closer bond to the natural world'. Or, depending on which side you're on, zoos are here for our mere exploitation. The 'E' word has a negative vibe to it, but that's the reason all animals are in captivity, be it a giraffe, shark, or domesticated dog.

Zoos absolutely DO play an important role in conservation efforts, and may be an essential contributing factor to the recovery efforts of suitable species. In a few cases, zoos and zoos only have saved species from extinction. But let's not pretend that this is the norm. Most zoo animals exist because they are in demand by the public, for the same reason that they are seen as 'more valuable' than a cow; beauty, iconism, and exotic allure. Zoos are a form of entertainment, or living museums that just happen to be more substantial and beneficial than the average amusement park, and they are wonderful additions to our society if they are managed properly and animals thrive within them.

It is for that reason that I consider the killing of this giraffe a mistake, and a waste of a valuable animal. Particularly for a species that does very well in captivity, does not demand a high-resource diet (like the meat-intensive diet of large carnivores), and is obviously captivating to human beings, the giraffe was worth much more alive than its weight in meat.

The giraffe could, in theory, have went to another facility where it would be put to better use than a few enriching meals for the zoo's big cats, benefiting the zoo with the financial returns from the sale, and the purchaser with a new, exciting animal to add to his or her collection. Why couldn't this take place?

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This takes us to the second provided reason; zoos do not want to sell animals to 'bad facilities'. And here's where I take the most offense, as an advocate of private pet ownership, whether it is a collie or a zebra. The assumption that all other facilities unaccredited by a particular organization (or maybe even not at all) have poor husbandry is a mistruth and reveals the issue with accrediting bodies taking presidence over all captive wildlife.

The accreditation problem

While public perception of non-politically correct 'private owners' and non-accredited zoos is mostly negative (and there certainly are large amounts of crappy zoos and owners to support this view), this view does not allow one to discern the good apples in the bunch—the possible places that this giraffe would have likely thrived at if placed there.

Going back to my previous statements about exotic animal favoritism, if a pet dog can be placed in a new home, potentially at the small risk of the owner not being perfect, why can't a giraffe be placed at a thoroughly-screened facility, under a contract that it cannot be re-homed (as many dog rescue organizations do under contract, requiring dogs to be returned to them if they are not going to be kept)? And if there is such a situation where a suitable home cannot be found, or if the sterilization procedure harms the animal to the extent that it cannot have sufficient well-being, then and only then would it be appropriate to dispatch the animal as a last resort and utilize its meat.

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This fantasy situation of mine cannot exist under the current rules of this accrediting body (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria or EAZA) that the public regards so highly (or used to) over the so-called horrendous private owners or lesser accredited zoos, but I hope they will reconsider this position in the future, given the tremendous public outcry caused by the death of a single animal. In fact, the aforementioned giraffe, Sandy Hope, resides in a beautiful private zoo that happens to be currently unaccredited by the major zoo organization in the United States (Association of Zoos and Aquariums or AZA), and I have personally witnessed her spectacular care and living situation.

So what sense does it make to not only forfeit a potential profit from the sale of the animal that can go toward the zoo's animals and conservation efforts, but to also create an uproar towards a zoo, vulnerable to the public's visitation and donations? Plus, the entire scenario of even going as far as to hack up the giraffe in front of small children will appear to many with anthropomorphic lenses as callous and disrespectful in nature.

Better off dead?

Some extreme animal rights activists often ignorantly exclaim that animals are 'better off dead' than living in a zoo, so why would zoo workers maintain a similar philosophy—that an animal is 'better off dead' than taking its chances in a well-managed non-accredited facility?

Going back to another one of my points, zoos have originated for human exhibition purposes and thankfully, both zoo workers and visitors are now demanding the best standards for animal care and welfare that often goes beyond the conservation goal. The giraffe's killing will come off as a betrayal, a breach of the paying public's trust when the goal should be inspiring them to keep these animals around in the wild.

I see no reason why the greater good of conservation aims can't be supplemented by the attachment that people will have with these zoo ambassadors. It's important for good public zoos to not only keep the species preservation goal in clear view, but also take into consideration the emotional perspectives of its patrons, misguided as they can sometimes be.


Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on April 06, 2014:

Thanks for the emotional silly comment Suzanne.

justmesuzanne from Texas on April 06, 2014:

Marius was not "euthanized". He was shot at point blank range with a bolt gun by someone he had been taught to trust. Your first sentence negates anything else you might have to say on this topic.

L. Sisco from VA Beach on March 31, 2014:

Ah, you are right on not going outside their members. Poor Marius :/

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on March 31, 2014:

Hi lenasico, it's my understanding that the facility is accredited by the EAZA which may be more likely to approve euthanasia, however while some AZA zoos are against some do it with less popular animals (deer, hogs, ect.) They don't re-home animals outside of their members.

L. Sisco from VA Beach on March 31, 2014:

Wow, that was a great hub. I used to be a volunteer zoo keeper aide, thankfully at a zoo that treated their animals so well and had great enclosures and enrichment programs. That is beyond sad that giraffe was put down. Each zoo has a registrar that is responsible for moving animals to other zoos (for a multiple of reasons) why wasn't that giraffe transported to another location that had space? Did AZA agree to putting him down? Thanks for sharing this.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on March 26, 2014:

I think the outrage over it is beyond absurd; unlike Marius, the lions would need to feed on hundreds of dead (killed) animals a year, but I'm equally irritated over the lack of preventive mating occurring based on deluded ethics of keeping the animals 'wild'.

Once again, these animals are not endangered or prepped to be released in the wild so their acting as though they have to breed these animals for a greater good is BS (like with Marius). Lions are more prominent in captivity and cost less, unlike giraffes, which could fetch up to $50,000. That's why you see them featured in bad situations such as in the doc 'Elephant in the Living Room'. I'm strongly opposed to producing or allowing to be produced unwanted animals of any species. We already have enough wasteful euthanizing happening with domesticated pets, so why I add to it? More importantly why make zoos, which are already under enough heat, be the perpetrators?

Nativefox on March 25, 2014:

Hi Melissa-I'm sure you've heard about the latest Copenhagen zoo scandal. What are your thoughts on this one?

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on February 23, 2014:

Thanks Better Yourself.

Better Yourself from North Carolina on February 23, 2014:

Congrats on HOTD, very interesting hub!

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on February 15, 2014:

Thank you Janshares!

Janis Leslie Evans from Washington, DC on February 15, 2014:

Congratulations on the HOTD nod. As I commented earlier, this is an excellent hub and now a well-deserved recognition for your work. I'm happy for you.

PDXBuys from Oregon on February 15, 2014:

I read this story on CNN and, according to that version, the zoo killed the animal to prevent "inbreeding". The zoo claimed that they decided not to sterilize the giraffe because it would still "take up space". And then they refused to sell or transfer the animal. Then they butchered the animal in front of children and fed the parts to the lions. There is something odd about this story...

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on February 15, 2014:

Culling animals is done in a great many species. As an omnivore, I don't see why a giraffe should be treated differently from a cow or a pig or any other domesticated animal that we use for food. As for cutting it up in front of children, it certainly would not have bothered me as a child but then I grew up to be a biologist! Giraffes are beautiful animals, so are cows. Zoo lions are presumably fed on cow meat if there is nothing else available, so I don't see the difference in them being fed on giraffe meat.

vandynegl from Ohio Valley on February 15, 2014:

Thank you for sharing this great article! A lot of good information, and yes, I'm sure it will create some mixed thoughts! I appreciate learning from this though! Keep them coming!

Don Kadinsky on February 15, 2014:

The same people who are outraged by this cull are sitting down to eat their roast beef without batting an eyelid - and they probably do nothing about the slaughter of wild animals or even the abuse of human children.

In any case, wildlife conservation - in the field or in collections - is all about management and a part of that must involve culling. We have upset the balance too far to have any other situation.

I'm angered and upset by the irrationality of these thoughtless individuals who render death threats and ill-thought petitions without doing any research and in the total absence of understanding.

How do they think vilifying the zoo will help the other animals in their care or the vitally important breeding programmes?

This issue is not about the giraffe - it's about the frightening stupidity of animal sentimentalists and uninformed fools.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on February 15, 2014:

Thanks Tom Schumacher, it's unlikely that the giraffe could be released, even after extensive rehabilitation.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on February 15, 2014:

@ Nell Rose, shahkar-khan, CMHypno Thanks for your encouragement. It does seem like the decision-making was rather hasty.

Nell Rose from England on February 15, 2014:

This was a fascinating read especially after following it in the news. You have some great points, and when I first heard of it my opinion was the same as everybody else, leave him alone! but as you said there are so many animals this happens too and we just don't hear of it, I personally believe they should have thought it out better before doing this, as even though human nature maybe 'silly' sometimes it should have been taken into consideration as you mentioned, great hub and congrats on HOBD! that was quick! lol!

Tom Schumacher from Huntington Beach, CA on February 15, 2014:

Congrats on HOTD! Personally, I didn't agree with the decision to euthanize Marius nor do I like the general concept of zoos. In consideration of Marius, the question remains: Was it possible that he could have survived in the wild and should he have been given the chance?

MysticMoonlight on February 15, 2014:

The story of Marius the Giraffe being put to death and then cut up in front of spectators saddens me terribly. How pitiful, I'm sorry. Animals are not here on this Earth to be treated this way. If other places are/were willing to take Marius or any other animal set to receive the same fate it seems illogical and unethical to go ahead and purposely kill them instead! Good grief. I understand the arguments but if there is an alternative it should very well be taken, in my honest opinion for whatever it's worth.

shahkar-khan on February 15, 2014:

i just found out about this incident through your hub. your efforts to spread this news is appreciable. thanks for sharing.

Earl Noah Bernsby on February 15, 2014:

Killing Marius was a senseless and completely unnecessary act, perpetrated by Darwin-extremist selective breeders (i.e., There were offers from other zoos to take the poor creature in). There is no reasonable justification for that kind of barbarism: Public dissection in front of children spectators? Madness! Chucking pieces of the carcass to the lions on camera?? Ghoulish!! Culling is unethical, and your argument is not logically sound, as is stems from the belief that animals were put here to benefit us:

"... I don't see anything wrong with benefiting from well-cared for animals. The issues arises when we start to knowingly produce animals that cannot be placed due to some arbitrary regulations..."

No. The issue arises when animals — living, feeling things — are removed from their natural environment and enslaved by humanity in the first place. And that's bad enough. But when these animals are then placed under our power as a result, and subsequently shot in the head, sliced up, and fed to other penned up animals? Well, that's just tragic — whether it be a giraffe, cow, pig, chicken, or any other beast that our species has abused.

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on February 15, 2014:

Interesting hub Melissa and on what is a sensitive issue. Unfortunately culling animals in zoos, reserves and national parks is sometimes necessary for the greater good of the whole animal population and the local ecosystem.

But I believe that in the case of Marius, he should have been allowed to live. He could have been sterilised and kept at Copenhagen or there were other European zoos who were members of EAZA (European Association of Zoos & Aquaria) who were willing to take him.

A wildlife park here in the UK offered to take him, but they were turned down because Marius's elder brother already lives there even though they had separate paddocks with room for another male giraffe. It was said that it would be better if a more genetically diverse giraffe took the place.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on February 13, 2014:

Thanks Eddy!

Eiddwen from Wales on February 13, 2014:

A great hub Melissa which is so interesting and leaves much food for thought.

Thanks for sharing and voted up for sure.


Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on February 12, 2014:

I believe it is Ron Morgan, but it's more common in European zoos. I'm going to guess that the reason may be a more prominent private sector in the country (that everyone is being led to believe is terrible), with less strict rules with the AZA.

Ron Morgan on February 12, 2014:

Melissa to your knowledge is this culling procedure used in zoos in the United States?

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on February 12, 2014:

Thanks bethperry!

Beth Perry from Tennesee on February 12, 2014:

Fantastic article, Melissa, and quite enlightening for those who want to understand the situation more than just hop on the angry bandwagon. Hasty retaliation against the humans involved does not help or save any animal. Thank you much for posting.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on February 11, 2014:

Thanks a lot grand old lady!

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on February 11, 2014:

I think aside from zoos being set up to entertain people, they also provide an educational aspect and this is enhanced if the zoo is well managed and children are taught to respect animals. Oftentimes in the Philippines zoo animals are moved regularly to different zoos so that others can experience them, too. There is also the breeding aspect for animals that are nearing extinction. But it is really a sad and terrible waste to kill an animal because the zoo has too many of them. The giraffe is such a graceful animal and it could have been shared with another zoo or prepared for a life in the wild. It was wrong also to kill it in front of people and feed it to other animals. But the truth is, in the wild that's what happens. Animals are killed by other animals and it is part of propagation of the species.

Your article is excellent, shows many different points of views, other examples and raises many new and intriguing questions that should be dwelt upon. Voted up, useful and interesting.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on February 11, 2014:

Thanks a lot janshares for reading and commenting. It's easy to react to the image of a giraffe being cut up in front of zoo visitors and even children, this situation could have been handled better. The silver lining is that the animal was killed quickly and utilized efficiently.

Janis Leslie Evans from Washington, DC on February 11, 2014:

Melissa, this is a mega article. I really appreciate the thorough presentation supported by your obvious knowledge and passion about the subject matter. This was very informative and educational. I was disturbed by the story and now have more background to inform how I feel about the issue as a whole. Very well-done. Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on February 10, 2014:

I might have Ann1Az2, but I think it's important to embrace the facts, I don't see anything wrong with benefiting from well-cared for animals. The issues arises when we start to knowingly produce animals that cannot be placed due to some arbitrary regulations. I should also note that it isn't practical to release captive born animals into the wild under these circumstances. Thanks for commenting.

Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on February 10, 2014:

You may have opened up a huge can of worms for the animal rights activists, but you made some very good points about zoos in general. I agree that they are mostly for the public's benefit. That's the main reason I never liked zoos. The only one I ever really enjoyed was at the Smithsonian. Wild life preserves are much more preferable it would seem to me, and more conducive to continuing an endangered species. A lot of wild animals don't even mate in captivity in the first place. As for this poor giraffe, I don't think the zoo has a leg to stand on. If it was overcrowded, then it could have found another place to send it (as you said), or they could have kept it long enough to train it to return to the wild. Any course of action would have been better than the one they took. A well thought through hub and voted up.

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