Marius (6 February 2012 – 9 February 2014) was a young male giraffe living at Copenhagen Zoo. Though healthy, he was genetically unsuitable for future breeding, as his genes were overrepresented in the captive population, so it was decided by the zoo authorities to kill him. Despite several offers to adopt Marius, which went against zoo policy of selling to private owners, and an online petition to save him, he was killed on 9 February 2014. His body was then dissected and necropsied in a public educational class and he was then fed to the zoo's lions. The event received worldwide media coverage and generated responses from several organisations and individuals, including death threats to staff at the zoo.
Since records began in the early 1900s, five giraffes have been killed for similar conservation management reasons. This is out of a captive population in Europe that in 2014 stood at 798 giraffes. Since 2012, two other young giraffe bulls in the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) have been killed.
Giraffes at Copenhagen Zoo
|Species||Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata|
|Born||6 February 2012|
|Died||9 February 2014 (aged 2)|
|Known for||Controversial culling at young age|
|Owner||Governed by Copenhagen Zoo|
The giraffe was born on 6 February 2012 at Copenhagen Zoo where he lived all his life. The zoo has a policy of only giving an official name to a few selected animals such as elephants with the prospect of living up to 50 years or more but the keepers informally named the giraffe "Marius". Shortly after his birth, Copenhagen Zoo informed the coordinator of the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) for giraffes who, according to the Danish Zoo Federation, along with his committee tried to find a suitable location for Marius but failed.
Most media wrote that Marius was 18 months old. Bengt Holst, Scientific Director of the zoo, corrected this, saying Marius was two years old.
In an interview with the BBC, a spokesman for European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) said that Marius had siblings with similar genes who were already in the organisation's breeding programme, which meant that he could not add anything to the programme. He specified that Marius could not be considered as an inbred, countering few earlier reports. He added that alternative solutions were considered, but not found viable. As the zoo was unable to find a suitable place for Marius, considered sterilization damaging to the animal's quality of life and did not want to send it to another EEP zoo where it would take up a "space for more genetically valuable giraffes", he was eventually put down on 9 February 2014. The zoo had announced that he would be anesthetized before being put down with a bolt gun, as lethal injection would make it unsafe for the carnivores at the zoo to eat. However, the executing vet said he used a rifle, allegedly a Winchester.
Following the recommendations of the EAZA the zoo decided to put down Marius. The Copenhagen Zoo explained in a statement that:
Offers to relocate Marius were received by Copenhagen Zoo, but none were taken up. Commenting on several offers the zoo stated that the offers did not match with requirements of the EAZA. As an EAZA member, the Copenhagen zoo does not own its animals, but manages them. The zoo is also not allowed to sell animals and the placement of animals outside of the EEP is limited to those that follow the same set of rules as EAZA. The following offers were declined.
EAZA member Krakow Zoo said it offered EAZA to adopt Marius but received an unreasoned refusal. A last-minute offer by EAZA member Yorkshire Wildlife Park to adopt Marius into a bachelor herd in its giraffe house was declined, according to Bengt Holst because the Wildlife Park's space would be better used by a "genetically more valuable giraffe" than Marius, whose brother already lived there. Also declined were offers from two non-EAZA members, the Dutch Landgoed Hoenderdaell wildlife park and the Swedish Frösö Zoo, as well as an offer by a private individual.
After being killed, Marius was publicly dissected. This was done in a separate area of the zoo, but accessible for those interested, including parents with children. The Associated Press distributed a photo of the public dissection worldwide, heightening the attention to the case. Parts of his body were fed to the zoo's lions. Other parts were sent to seven research projects. The zoo's spokesman said, "I'm actually proud because I think we have given children a huge understanding of the anatomy of a giraffe that they wouldn't have had from watching a giraffe in a photo." According to Bengt Holst, public dissection of deceased animals fits with the zoo's policy to educate people on nature and wildlife, and is a normal practice in Denmark. The animal rights protest group OASA described the dissection as a "PR stunt", whereas the main animal rights group in Denmark, Dyrenes Beskyttelse, supported the Zoo's actions. Others have criticized the public dissection questioning the educational value.
Bengt Holst, scientific director at the Danish zoo, said that the amount of international interest had come as a surprise to the zoo, but also stressed the importance of a policy of openness. He defended the killing of the young bull based on culling for artificial selection. He said that giraffes at the zoo breed very well and where this was the case, giraffes had to be selected to ensure the best genes were passed down to ensure the animals' long-term survival. He confirmed the zoo typically culls 20 to 30 animals every year, mostly antelopes, llamas and goats.
EAZA issued a press release "fully supporting" the decisions and policy of the Copenhagen Zoo. Its executive director, Lesley Dickie, supported the killing and public dissection, and said that EAZA's position receives support from the International Union for Conservation of Nature. An EAZA spokesperson estimated that on average each of its members annually kills about five large mammals.
Several EAZA members commented on the culling:
The director of Hellabrunn Zoo in Munich, Germany said the zoo would never kill a giraffe or do a similar public dissection, which had left him "speechless". He said some animals such as goats and guinea pigs are killed as food for predators, but without "making a show" of this, and that the killing of animals has been more accepted in Scandinavian zoos for a number of years, but he did not know the exact reasoning behind the Copenhagen Zoo's decisions.
The director of Kraków Zoo in Poland, Józef Skotnicki, expressed deep disappointment with the EAZA attitude, the killing and the public dissection.
Moscow Zoo in Russia condemned the actions, saying it did not support killing policies and instead favoured sterilization. It also expressed concern for the potential harm to children who attended the dissection.
Nuremberg Zoo in Germany supported the Copenhagen Zoo's actions. Director Dag Encke noted that giraffes had more emotional appeal than some other species and that the policy and actions had been well considered. With regard to the public dissection, he commented that children tended to have a natural curiosity, provided that everything was well explained.
The director of Prague Zoo in the Czech Republic criticized the public dissection, saying it "...should have been done with a certain amount of dignity and not in the presence of the public and cameras". However he also wrote that the killing should be evaluated "after a necessary interval and from a number of perspectives."
A vet at Safaripark Beekse Bergen in the Netherlands said killing is considered less objectionable by Scandinavian zoos than by Dutch zoos, which instead choose to use bachelor herds and birth control.
A specialist vet at Tiergarten Schönbrunn in Austria called the public feeding of the predators "emotionless", but added "if a giraffe likewise would be born in Schönbrunn, which due to a risk of inbreeding could not be placed elsewhere, then a similar procedure like the one in Copenhagen could take place there."
Dyrenes Beskyttelse, a Danish animal protection organization, said that it trusts the decisions made by the zoo and pointed at the issue of the large number of other authorized killings of animals in society, in general, such as piglets and stags.
Denmark's Organisation Against the Suffering of Animals repudiated the action as unethical, saying:
The Born Free Foundation called for,
Esther Ouwehand, Member of the Dutch Parliament for the Party for the Animals asked the State Secretary for Economic Affairs for clarification on the practice in Dutch Zoos and request for more strict European regulation on breeding programs. In her response the State Secretary did not second additional restrictions arguing that the role of zoos, as preservers of the biodiversity of animals as is described in the EU Directive 1999/22/EC, does not compromise the individuality, health and well-being of the animal.
Members of the public started an international online petition directed at the Copenhagen Zoo to save Marius. Upon its closure shortly after the killing, the petition collected over 27,000 signatures. After the killing, a petition was directed at Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt calling for the closure of the zoo, which received by 14 February over 98,000 signatures
Copenhagen Zoo managers confirmed that staff, including its head of conservation, received death threats by phone and email following the killing of Marius.
Concerns were raised by Psychology Today regarding the precise educational benefit to children of attending the public dissection of an animal which they had previously petted. An article "What we Learned From Marius" expressed outrage and distaste, and insisted that the children would only learn that killing animals for entertainment was legitimate.
On May 26, Bengt was elected as Copenhagener of the Year by readers of the Danish newspaper Politiken. The zoo director was nominated by the newspaper for his business-like response to Channel 4 reporter Matt Frei and for "insisting that we should not change the world into a Disney World wherein no person ever dies".
The reported events quickly gained attention in many countries, and some examples from entries in the public debate are given below.
Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, criticized the zoo's actions to kill Marius, calling it "abominable, insensitive, grotesque". He stated that such an action would never have occurred in America.
Ben Fogle, British broadcaster and adventurer, criticized the "shocking lack of compassion" in the dealing with zoo animals as the result of unsuitable funds for many contemporary zoo institutions
Alan Posener, British-German columnist, condemned the killing and dissection as a sort of entertainment, which he saw as based on a fascination of violence. To him, a zoo strategy built on Disney-like fairy-tales was actually preferable to instruction in emotionless and patronizing Darwinism
Robert Young, professor of Wildlife Conservation at the University of Salford, wrote that the case illustrated cultural and institutional differences in how zoos weigh aspects of the animals' quality of life. He discussed how some zoos may favour sterilization and increased longevity. Copenhagen Zoo, however, favours non-sterilization, fewer constraints on breeding and full periods of parenthood, though at the risk of shorter lives for the offspring.
Éric Baratay, a professor in History at the Université Jean Moulin in Lyon, France, and a specialist in the relationship between humans and animals, called the media transparency of the event "very surprising" as it concerns a baby giraffe and "since giraffes are among the most beloved animals among the public".
Victoria Martindale, British animal activist, wrote that the case illustrated how zoos were basically unnatural surroundings for animals, and that the early death liberated Marius from "years of imprisonment".
Marc Bekoff, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said: "The cold justification for these killings offered by zoo workers chilled and scared me. Furthermore, these easily avoidable deaths, perversely justified "in the name of conservation," are horrible lessons for youngsters and run counter to global programs in humane education and compassionate conservation."