Animal-rights activists fought valiantly to save Marius, but to no avail.
The 18-month-old healthy giraffe was put down by the Copenhagen Zoo on February 9 because of what it said was the danger of inbreeding, and to keep in accordance with the dictates imposed upon it by European Union regulations.
But it’s what happened next that has sparked worldwide controversy. In what zoo officials said was an educational endeavor, the animal was publicly autopsied, chopped up and fed to lions and tigers—before a live audience that included children. Now, zoo officials are getting death threats themselves.
"I got direct threats against the zoo, me and my family," said the zoo’s scientific director, Bengt Holst, to the Chicago Tribune, including a phone caller in the dead of night who said he and his family deserved to die.
At least 27,000 people had signed a petition to “Save Marius” before the animal was euthanized, according to CNN, in hopes of getting the zoo to reverse its decision.
Marius was healthy, and his only crime was being “surplus,” as the zoo put it.
“The purpose of the breeding program is to have as healthy a population as possible, not only now, but in the future,” Holst told Time magazine. “As this giraffe’s genes are overrepresented in the breeding program, the European Breeding Programme for Giraffes has agreed that Copenhagen Zoo euthanize him.”
Two offers came in from other zoos a couple of days before Marius was euthanized by bolt gun, but neither was suitable, according to Copenhagen Zoo officials. One already had enough giraffes from that genetic line and needed to keep the space open for other genetic lines to be represented, Time said. The other could not guarantee it would not unload Marius at some later date. Neutering the giraffe would have compromised its quality of life, zoo officials told CNN and other media outlets.
While this case is going viral, the practice itself is not new, an animal-rights activist told the Chicago Tribune. Zoos often kill animals that are healthy but unsuitable for breeding, especially when there’s no room for them, said Camilla Bergvall, vice chairwoman of Animal Rights Sweden.
"It is important to understand that this is not just about Marius,” Bergvall told Tribune news services. “It happens quite often that healthy animals are killed."