Copenhagen Giraffe: The Increase of ‘Surplus’ Euthanasia

February 9, 2014 2:30 pm

The controversial debate surrounding animal rights has spanned over a century. Zoos, a frequent epicentre of criticism, have used contraception as a means of population control for many decades. However, in recent years, an increase in zoo-administered euthanasia has been observed. Today, an eighteen-month-old giraffe named Marius was killed with a bolt gun in Copenhagen Zoo to maintain breeding systems. The culling of innocent ‘surplus’ animals for biologically-sound breeding programmes has quickly become a trend, creating an animal rights battleground. 

The historical prevalence of this practice differs in terms of geographical position. For instance, a zoo in the United States is likely to use birth control methods to keep its zoo population from escalating too quickly, whereas a zoo in Africa will use other, more inhumane systems of control.

African Lion

However, until more recently, this tactic was less commonly used, and only employed when a drastic surplus had been observed. In 1976, William Conway, company director of Bronx Zoo, suggested that to avoid a surplus of animals, and to prevent over-crowding and biologically corrupt breeding programmes, euthanasia must be addressed. However, Conway only poised this possibility on a very minute scale; yet, certain zoos across the world have taken this concept for granted; hence employing euthanasia as a routine procedure for ‘unnecessary’ animals.

Both the European and African Associations of Zoos and Aquaria favor euthanasia over contraception. Lethal injections or electric shock techniques are used to eradicate certain animals; particularly adolescents; within a species. Although birth control can sometimes pose health risks and complications within animals, zoo analysts suggest that the euthanasia of animals of a certain age could generate more profit for the zoo, killing off adolescents to make room for younger, cuter residents.

A 1991 Los Angeles Times report by Steve Graham, former director of Detroit Zoo, comments on the unavoidable nature of surplus animals. Unlike more modern institutions, however, he places a heavy focus on the minute scale with which Detroit Zoo administered this technique. Animals were only subjected to euthanasia if they were dying; if the zoo could not find another professionally accredited zoo to place them in due to a surplus at Detroit; and if they could not be returned to the wild.


Recently, however, it seems that the attitudes of certain zoos towards animal rights has changed for the worse. A study by Captive Animals from 2006-2010 confirmed a rise in zoo culls for surplus species. The study found that at least 7,500 animals – possibly as many as 200,000 – in European zoos are considered ‘surplus’ at any one time. According to CAPS research; in 2001, a DEFRA investigation into a UK zoo found that “several significant dead animals” were stored in a food freezer for “taxidermy in the future”.

In 2008, Magdeburg Zoo in Germany was criticised heavily in international press when they killed three newborn tiger cubs that were not considered “pure-blooded”, sparking concerns that they had breached multiple animal welfare laws. In two years, it seems, the spread of routine euthanasia began to grow substantially. In 2012 Copenhagen Zoo hit headlines for its annual cull of twenty-five healthy animals; in particular, a couple of two-year-old leopard cubs.

Today, we hear news of another case of euthanasia at Copenhagen Zoo: eighteen-month-0ld Marius, a surplus giraffe. Science officials at the zoo have fiercely defended their decision to kill the giraffe by a bolt gun earlier this morning, stressing the “normality” of the practice, playing a significant role in their multi-national breeding programme.

It has been suggested that certain UK zoos attempted to contact Copenhagen to assist their re-homing of the animal, however, the zoo is said to have declined due to EU breeding laws and biological concerns. It is said that the giraffe’s carcass will now be tested for research, and then anatomized and fed to other animals within the zoo.

It seems that the debate has reached the point of brutality. Today, we see an innocent giraffe culled to maintain breeding programmes. It calls for further concerns about European biological practices, particularly if these methods are used predominately to preserve aesthetic pleasure for consumers and hence raise profit.

Should the EU revise their breeding laws, so that the UK could have re-homed the giraffe, instead of it being part of a cull? Are animals in most zoos now purely viewed as stock, killed for reshuffling purposes, when they could be placed elsewhere for a longer life? The debate continues.

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