Dr. Michael Omidi discusses the latest series of healthy animals that were euthanized by the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark.
Even though the Copenhagen Zoo certainly didn’t need any more bad publicity, it has nonetheless decided to euthanize a family of lions in order to incorporate a new male lion into the population without fear of compromising genetic purity. The Zoo received a major backlash in February for euthanizing a healthy giraffe known as Marius.
The healthy giraffe, informally called Marius, was a popular attraction at the Copenhagen Zoo. The zoo officials decided to euthanize Marius when it received word that it would be introducing a new giraffe into the population for breeding purposes, and that there would be no room for Marius as a result.
Rather than allow one of the many other interested zoos that did have room to have Marius transferred over to them, the Copenhagen Zoo decided to euthanize Marius, butcher him in front of a crowd, and feed him to the lions. Zoo officials argued that doing so was for the educational benefit of the observers, many of them students from various local schools.
Ironically, the lions that fed upon Marius are the same lions that were euthanized. The lions were a 14 year old female, a 16 year old male and their two cubs. According to representatives from the zoo, the cubs were in danger of being preyed upon by the new lion, and the new dynamic would have caused the older male lion to view his own offspring as suitable mates, thereby creating inbred offspring.
European zoo protocol is very different from practices embraced in the United States. In Europe, zoo animals are not sterilized; the animals are simply put down rather than risk the possibility of inbred offspring. Zoologists argue that euthanasia, rather than contraception, is the more efficient means of preserving genetically desirable animals, and that sentimentality rather than science could result in an abundance of inbred zoo animals.
It is very interesting that science and nature are the first arguments that zoo officials turn to when it comes to making decisions about zoo animals’ genetic desirability. None of the zoo animals are fit to be returned to the wild; every one of them will spend the remainder of their lives either on display for a paying public or at a protected animal sanctuary where their environment is wholly controlled.
If the idea is that these animals are to be kept as nature intended, then it is supremely ironic that it makes absolutely no difference in terms of the global wild animal population. Furthermore, how does systematically butchering a giraffe and feeding it directly to a population of captive lions educate anyone on wild animal behavior?
All in all, the argument about the scientific rationality in euthanizing healthy animals in order to protect the gene pool is what magicians call a plausible diversion: The part of the trick that keeps the audiences’ eyes away from where the switch is being pulled. The zoos’ main concern is revenue; they want a robust population of captive animals, they want them to behave as closely as they would in the wild in order to keep patrons happy and they don’t want the expense of dealing with animals that are inconvenient. If we aren’t comfortable with the reality of zoos’ operations, then maybe we shouldn’t fund their practices by visiting them.
 Bilefsky, Dan: Danish Zoo, Reviled in the Death of a Giraffe, Kills 4 Lions 3/26/2014 New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/27/world/europe/lion-killing-at-danish-zoo-provokes-fresh-outrage.html?_r=0