• Tue, Feb 11 - 4:00 pm ET

Zoo Kills And Dismembers Healthy Giraffe In Front Of Children, Insert Horror Here

Off Court At The 2014 Australian Open

The zoo in Copenhagen is under intense scrutiny after killing a healthy 18-month-old giraffe named Marius in front of a crowd of people that included many children. Yeah, it’s real. Yeah, I do have something in my eye.

On Sunday, the zoo euthanized the giraffe via shooting him in the head. An public autopsy was then performed on his body (included cutting off his body parts) and some of the body was fed to the lions in the zoo.

In some ways, I can understand wanting children to understand the realities of nature, aka that not all animals are cuddly, pettable (Is that a word? It is now) and meant to be kept in your house. But shooting a giraffe AND THEN DISMEMBERING IT in front of zoo visitors, including children? That seems wildly inappropriate and inhumane.

I mean, did visitors opt in to this display, or was it just that if you happened to be walking by the giraffe area, then you’d see a veterinarian holding up pieces of giraffe corpse? Also, was there was no old, decrepit giraffe that could have served as the centerpiece of this lesson on conservation? Apparently, Marius was marked for euthanasia due to risks of inbreeding if he were to stay at the zoo in Copenhagen or get transferred to another zoo. Bengt Holst, director of research and conversation at the zoo told CNN:

“Our giraffes are part of an international breeding program, which has a purpose of ensuring a sound and healthy population of giraffes. It can only be done by matching the genetic composition of the various animals with the available space. … When giraffes breed as well as they do now, then you will inevitably run into so-called surplus problems now and then.”

But again, even if they HAD to euthanize this particular guy, I’m still at a loss wondering why it had to be done in front of children and visitors at the zoo. Holst said the zoo saw it as a learning opportunity for the community, because zoos have an obligation “not to make nature into a Disney World.” You can read a more in-depth statement about the zoo’s actions on its website.

The zoo’s actions have, of course, spurred a lot of outrage from animal rights activists and also regular people like me. Apparently a British zoo had offered to adopt Marius and there was an online petition to save him, which had over 25,000 signatures. Of course I don’t know beans about animal husbandry or the management of giraffes or running a zoo, but I still just can’t understand why Marius couldn’t be transferred to a zoo that was interested in caring for him. Or why his death had to be a public event.

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

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  • Guest

    what What WHAT? Wtf. I get nature isn’t pretty but guess what? Zoos are not nature. Transfer the giraffe to another zoo and quit being a bunch of weirdos who think it is “nature” to shoot a giraffe in the head and cut him into little pieces in front of people. That is some Dexter ish.

    • Paul White

      They tried to transfer him to another zoo; none could/would take him.
      His father was attacking him as were other males in the herd.

      EDIT: zoos can’t just adopt out to random zoos/institutions. Usually they have to belong to the same affiliation that the zoo where the animal originates is.

      It kind of sucks–it means I as a competent private person don’t have access to some hard to find species I could work with–but I also do understand why they do it.

    • Lee

      They don’t sell the animals and will only transfer them to other zoos in the program so the animal doesn’t get sold into bad conditions like a circus. The giraffe didn’t fit anywhere into the program that connects these zoos.

    • Guest

      While I appreciate them trying to avoid the circus this is still a bummer. I get that they can’t keep every animal but this still just seems fucked up to me.

    • Garavriel

      Other than the people watching, the people who were told exactly what was going to happen, it’s the exact same way cattle are slaughtered for human consumption. It’s a humane method, instantaneous death. The giraffe felt nothing and the lions were angle to eat something they do in the wild without the giraffe having to suffer the awful death of dismemberment by lions.

    • SarahJesness

      How is it any more Dexter-ish than cutting up a cow or horse or goat to feed to the lions? Can’t feed the cats tofu.

  • Fireinthefudgehole

    Aaaaaand one more reason for me to never go to zoos.

    • Guest

      Amen. I used to love zoos but after a couple college classes discussing what kind of effed up they are I feel a little differently now.

  • Alex Lee

    My veterinarian wife mentioned this last night. She, understandably, has to euthanize many animals – the reasons range from financial, to quality-of-remaining-life, to owner’s discretion, etc. It’s probably the most-difficult aspect of animal care.

    It’s unfortunate that Marius had to be euthanized because of his genetic makeup. Apparently, sterilization to ensure his inbred-qualities wouldn’t propagate was not an option for the European Breeding Program.

    So what did we learn?

    1. Copenhagen zoos are hardcore

    2. Lions gotta eat

    • Kay_Sue

      Dammit, Simba!

  • Mystik Spiral

    There must be better ways than DEATH to ensure that the poor guy didn’t breed. I can think of one right off the top of my head. Also, this is a good example of how nature does NOT work. Lions in the wild don’t rely on humans to kill and dismember their prey for them.

    Ugh, this is so disgusting I do not even have the words.

    • Amy Orvin

      You are the only sensible person here.

  • chickadee

    Did anyone say why neutering was out of the question? because the zoo’s website didn’t. I mean, I totally understand why poor Marcus shouldn’t be allowed to breed, but whack off his testicles and everything’s cool, right? It could even be a learning experience.

    • Paul White

      The answer is no, the dominant male would still attack him. And neutering/spaying for large hoofstock is pretty high risk in and of itself. It isn’t like fixing a cow or horse.

    • Lee

      I heard an NPR interview with the research director yesterday. He said if they just neutered him he would still be taking up space that a more genetically fitting giraffe could be occupying.

    • chickadee

      So a little research would have been a good idea before the author wrote this article, is what I’m getting from you, Paul, and Alex…? Good to know!

    • SarahJesness

      To add, a neutering would’ve been very risky anyway.

  • AmazingAsh

    I think I’m the only one not horrified by this. It’s sad and it sucks- I get that. I grew up on a farm and have had to bolt-gun livestock. Watching the giraffe be sliced up isn’t much different than watching a butcher slice up meat and from my understanding, the zoo regularly culls animals that aren’t fit for it’s breeding program.

  • Alex Lee

    Some Q & A regarding Marius, the European Endangered-Species Breeding Program (EEP):

    http://www.canada.com/technology/Questions+answers+about+Europes+giraffe+breeding+program/9487231/story.html

    • chickadee

      Thanks for this link — it answers my question regarding neutering. It also explains why they couldn’t just keep him. I’m seeing the situation in a different light now.

    • Paul White

      and this is why getting facts BEYOND a sensational headline is important before having knee jerk reactions.

    • JLH1986

      I understood the need to put him down. Still don’t get the skinning, butchering and feeding to lions in front of others.

    • Paul White

      So you’d be more OK with wasting the meat?
      They didn’t butcher; they dissected. In front of a group of people that were told what was going on and allowed to watch. This wasn’t something they randomly did in front of people.

    • Amy Orvin

      Dissected for what? He didn’t have a disease/ These people were wrong AND WILL STAND FOR IT!

    • Jessica Johnson

      That link was pretty helpful. I can see where it would be more dangerous to sedate a giraffe to neuter (geld? de-ball.) it. That’s a lot of long skinny neck crumpling to the ground. But not being super familiar with giraffe anatomy, I don’t understand why they couldn’t use an elastrator like they sometimes use with bulls. Trouble restraining a giraffe maybe? I can see where that would be tough to do too. Or maybe they don’t make elastrator pliers big enough. But I’d think a mild sedative, giraffe valium or something, and the right tool and they could be castrated.

    • Paul White

      Long answer short: No, it’s been tried. Dosing them is hard apparently (I was talking with an old vet friend from the Denver Zoo about this). I didn’t understand all of what he said TBH since I’m not a vet.

    • SarahJesness

      Apparently for giraffe surgery, anesthesia is the most dangerous part. Due to the long neck, a lot can go wrong.

    • Jessica Johnson

      I don’t imagine it would be easy to figure out the dosing, yeah. There’s a lot fewer of them to practice meds on (as opposed to cattle or horses), fewer vets doing the work (so harder to call up colleagues and get their opinion), etc. And with the way horse systems are so delicate compared to cattle, lord only knows how fragile a giraffe system could be.
      I can see where intubating them could also be a nightmare, if that had to happen. .

    • Blueathena623

      From what I understand, another issue was the main male was bullying him. Unless the alpha was going to back off is Marius was neutered, they still couldn’t have kept him there.

  • Paul White

    And lions eat what exactly?

    • msenesac

      I was hoping someone would mention some of these facts that were omitted. It’s kind of ridiculous for people to be outraged at this and eat meat. Oh and apparently nearly all zoos cull animals every year.

    • Paul White

      yeah, such culling isn’t always lethal. But spaying/neutering large hoofstock is NOT like neutering a cow. With any of the truly large ones it’s pretty risky IIRC. I’m not a mammal guy myself, but that’s the impression I’ve gotten from talking with folks that keep hoofstock.

    • pixie

      I agree. Gelding horses and neutering cows is easy because the procedures have been around for a very long time and been perfected. Neutering animals like giraffes hasn’t and as one of the facts things pointed out, they can easily break their necks when tranquillized if they fall the wrong way. Their skeletal anatomies are very different and with less time spent studying them and being around them in captivity, of course it’s going to be very different and very difficult.

    • Kay_Sue

      It really is irritating. As long as the animal is treating as humanely as possible during the slaughter process, and as long as the population is sustainable, I don’t see why it is a big deal. It’s sad. It is. But it’s a fact of life when you’re trying to maintain a sustainable breeding population.

    • Garavriel

      The giraffe was killed in the exact same way cattle for human consumption are killed, by captive bolt.

    • Kat

      I want to argue but I can’t.

  • evilstepmom

    If they were going to do it as a “nature isn’t pretty” lesson, then why wouldn’t they have let nature take it’s course; either with the male giraffes that were already attacking him, or with the lions. (I’m not saying I like this idea either. I am just saying that it would make more sense.)

    • Tea

      But, that’s also risky for the same reason that live-feeding mice isn’t advised with snakes or inverts. You run the risk of hurting or killing a needed breeding specimen in the process.

    • Rachel Sea

      Their lions would have no idea how to take down a giraffe. The instinct to hunt may be inborn, but hunting is a learned skill, the training for which is passed through generations.

    • SarahJesness

      Even if the lions had the hunting instinct and skill to go after the giraffe, the zoo wouldn’t want to put the lions at risk. A decently sized hoofed mammal, much less a large one like a giraffe, could easily injure or even kill an attacking lion. Shoot, in the wild, lions will rarely attack fully grown giraffes. (though it does happen)

  • http://www.twitter.com/ohladyjayne allisonjayne

    I was pretty horrified to see a photo of the lions eating the carcass in my morning paper yesterday. Seriously, I’m not that squeamish (I watch a lot of nature documentaries) but dudes I was eating.
    Apparently there was some reserve or sanctuary or something that expressed interest as well.
    This makes me sad. I have such a hard time with zoos. I want my kid to love animals the same way I do, and part of the reason I love animals is from seeing them up close at the zoo, but at the same time, zoos are so messed up. MORAL DILEMMA.

    • Rachel Sea

      I was horrified to visit my city zoo as an adult. The thing was built in the ’30s, and though the staff clearly try to do right by the animals, the enclosures are basically little dioramas, meant to display, not house. Some of them are so dated they aren’t even used, their lion house stands as a museum to the cruelty of previous generations.

      There are sanctuaries which house zoo and show animals in more nearly normal environments, and some of them give tours. They are expensive to visit, because they cannot accommodate thousands of visitors a day, but I’d rather take a kid to learn about elephants somewhere that doesn’t make me want to cry.

    • http://www.twitter.com/ohladyjayne allisonjayne

      I live pretty close to what used to be the zoo in my city. It has since been converted into a working urban farm, but you can still find an old lion enclosure in the marsh area. It’s smaller than my bedroom. It’s so upsetting. The zoo in my city now has enclosures so big you can hardly see the animals, which can be frustrating but likely much better for them than the alternative!

    • Garavriel

      The Copenhagen Zoo is actually really nice, they’ve redone a lot of the enclosures and the animals all looked healthy and happy last time I was there, unlike the animals in a few zoos I’ve seen. Last time I was there they had recently redone the elephant enclosure and it is massive and has some really neat toys for stimulation, they were the happiest captive elephants I’ve seen. They were alert, bright eyed, interacting with each other and the baby was goofing around.

      The problem with someone else taking the giraffe was that he was owned by a group that manages a group of zoos, not the Copenhagen zoo itself and he could legally only be moved to another zoo that was part of that group.

    • SarahJesness

      I recommend making it a point to stick to good zoos. Lots of zoos do a great job of creating nice enclosures for their animals, and many strive to come up with and offer new forms of enrichment for the animals to encourage exercise and natural behavior. The Houston Zoo has a great chimp exhibit recently built. It’s really big, the chimps have lots of stuff to do, and said chimps are something of rescue animals. (pets and entertainment industry animals that were given up when they got to be too much to handle)

      You can also try out wildlife parks that let animals run around on open land, and you tour around in a car. Some animal sanctuaries will let people take tours sometimes. (though as with zoos, do your research on it before supporting it)

    • http://www.twitter.com/ohladyjayne allisonjayne

      That’s what we try to do. The zoo here seems to be ok….the enclosures are so big, you hardly get to see the animals. It’s hard to know sometimes before you go somewhere….zoo websites of course say they are totally not-evil, but googling just turns up sites that say ALL zoos are inherently evil. It’s hard to find good information for my ‘middle ground’ stance.
      And yes to sanctuaries! We visit the Farm Sanctuary in New York sometimes and it’s so lovely. We’re hoping to visit the one in California next month. Yay!

    • SarahJesness

      I recommend starting a search by checking for accredited zoos, (AZA if you’re in the US, might need to find a different organization for zoos out of the country) and narrowing down from there. There’s a website called Zoochat where you can go into forums and discuss zoos, the people there will gladly tell you if a zoo is any good. And these people are hardcore zoo fanatics, going to ones all over the world and traveling to different places sometimes just to see the zoo. (if I had the money and means I’d do that. I wanna see the Minnesota Zoo again, that zoo is INSANE. In a good way!) A lot of them have REALLY high standards as a result. If you wanna stay on the safe side, just go to the ones they tell you are really, REALLY good. Then it’s a pretty safe bet!

    • http://www.twitter.com/ohladyjayne allisonjayne

      Thanks for this, that’s actually really helpful!

  • Tea

    To add on to the other good points that don’t need repeated (Alex and Paul) The public aspect of it all was intended to be educational, it was a dissection, not just a butchering. People were warned, it was known about in advance, and science oriented kids, or kids who grew up on farms, are used to that kind of thing. People were informed of what was going to happen, and chose to watch, because while it may make some people squirm, it would be fascinating to others.

    • Paul White

      I’ve dissected roadkill small animals that were in good shape a few times. It’s definitely kinda grody but eh, it’s educational.

    • Blueathena623

      Honestly, if given the chance, I would have wanted to attend.

    • SarahJesness

      Same here. Not often you get to see that kind of thing.

  • Rachel Sea

    If they were fine with him dying, it seems like he would have been a good practice case to try to get better at sedation for surgical procedures, then he could have had a chance to live, and taught the vets more about caring for other giraffes.

  • Robotic Arms Dealer
  • Kay_Sue

    Guess they had to use whatever was…”lion” around….

    I’m sorry. I’ll show myself out….

    • Bethany Ramos

      Love!!! Hahaha

  • Amber Stacey Larsson

    Animal rights activists ARE regular people like you. Gosh.

  • Garavriel

    I have been to the Copenhagen Zoo multiple times. It is one of the best run zoos I have ever visited and I have been to and I’ve been to at least half a dozen zoos in four countries. They are committed to quality care for the animals. I am a vegetarian, I worked at an equine rescue for five years, spent one summer working at a private zoo, and I’ve been a lifetime animal lover. I don’t see an issue with how this was handled. He was killed humanely, the lions were allowed to eat a natural prey item, and the public was given a once in a lifetime learning opportunity in watching the autopsy.

  • Yusuf Wibisono

    Siap untuk menang dan berhasil itu hal biasa tetapi siap untuk kalah dan gagal itu yg luar biasa

  • Elisa Probert

    I don’t know how I feel about this. I mean, it’s horrible for the giraffe, obviously, and why the heck couldn’t it have been done during normal feeding times instead of with a crowd?

    On the other hand, I’m training my ferrets to eat whole mice and i feed them frogs’ legs, would be whole frogs if I could get them. Because that is what they are designed to eat and almost everything thrives best on the food it’s actually meant to eat, So maybe I don’t have a good perspective for this story since the thought of my carnivorous pets eating MEAT makes people freak out.

  • ElleJai

    And this is why I want to be a vegetarian.

    I hate eating things with a face, but at least when I get it I don’t know what it looked like.

    Marius had a name, a face, sad little eyes. It’s weak but I don’t want to think about him being murdered as surplus when my son is his age and all I can think is “his poor mum!” even knowing his mum was probably over him since he wasn’t a child any more.

  • Upsilon

    I don’t why people are upset about this. What exactly do you think goes on at zoos? It’s an artificial environment and the population has to be managed. And I would totally take my child to see this teaching moment if she were old enough to understand. If you have a problem with this euthanasia, then you have a problem with the idea of a zoo in general

  • Amy Orvin

    Why are there so many giraffe haters in this group? Let’s take one of your children and do that to them! Then let’s see how nonchalant everyone is here. You shut up, didn’t you? Yeah, Marius was a life. A life given from God. To be destroyed that way was meaningless and petty! There could have been real help for him if anyone cared or tried harder and with more concern. Hope your knees are knocking when you answer before God. Hmmm!

  • SarahJesness

    The whole thing really doesn’t bother me. Also, the giraffe wasn’t shot in front of the visitors, just dissected and fed to the lions. It’s not much different from what they’d see on a nature program, and I’m pretty sure they announced it. Just as well, apparently Denmark doesn’t really have much issue with kids being exposed to these kinds of things. Commenters on other articles have been saying kids there, at that age, will often go on a field trip to a slaughterhouse.