The public killing and necropsy of a 2-year-old giraffe named Marius at the Copenhagen Zoo, whose remains were fed to big cats at the zoo, has generated a lot of comment around the world. Most are upset by what happened, but some support the zoo.
The reason that the Danish zoo gave for the killing was to preserve the genetic health for breeding giraffes in Europe. The Copenhagen Zoo said it acted on a recommendation of the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Kris Vehrs, executive director of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the accrediting body of zoos in North America, said the AZA’s Species Survival Plan program offers ways to manage animal populations, including “science-based breeding recommendations and cooperating to plan for adequate space. AZA’s Wildlife Contraception Center and AZA’s Population Management Center help AZA members with the expertise and planning to manage animal populations.”
While not commenting directly on the Copenhagen Zoo, Dennis Pate, director and CEO of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, said the AZA and EAZA look at population control in different ways. European zoos are more likely to use euthanasia.
“Our industry, our association, leaves the decision to individual zoo policies,” he said.
The Omaha zoo’s specific policies say the zoo can kill only those animals that are purchased for food, such as insects, rodents and fish, or possibly for animal health reasons, he said. None of that would be done publicly.
If there is a possible overpopulation of some species, such as penguins, the zoo may elect not to incubate eggs laid by the animals. Or sometimes insect larvae are thinned.
Pate said it is hard when animals that are named in contests or endeared to the public are sent away or die from natural causes. Killing them would be extremely difficult.
“Zoo directors sweat over those decisions,” Pate said.
One thing to keep in mind is space in European zoos. The Copenhagen Zoo is about 27 acres. Omaha’s zoo has about 130 acres.