Who in Hell killed Marius the Giraffe?

MariusMarius was a healthy two year old when they publicly killed him, skinned him, and fed his remains to lions in front of an audience that included children. This despite petitions from the public and multiple offers to buy and house the young giraffe, left many asking if the Copenhagen Zoo was in fact, run by the disciples of…

Hell, I really want it to be that easy. Reading the story on my local newspaper app this morning initially left me wondering what on Google’s green Earth was happening in the world. A Zoo with what seems to be high standards and regulation choosing to murder a young giraffe rather than preserve it’s life?

I closed the app.

My Gastown Breakfast at Deacon’s Corner arrived, magically erasing my memory of the article. Eating my diner fair, I couldn’t help but take particular note of the fact there were five separate tables with customers sporting bright unnaturally colored hair. And a few folks were dressed in fifties garb. Not costumes, but vintage everyday wear. A completely randomly occurring collision of hipster-punk-pin up…

With nothing left in front of me but my half cup of coffee and the bill, I suddenly remembered how much I hated the Copenhagen Zoo. Reading the story again, this time without the initial shock factor, left me wondering. On the surface, it’s hard not to get angrily imprisoned by the horrific. But why would a relatively respected zoo jeopardize their world reputation for no reason?

They wouldn’t, of course. There’d have to be a pretty strong reason for a zoo to risk the obvious public outcry of such an action. Not to mention handing their strongest opposition a bloody perfect public relations gift.

So why did they do it?

The Copenhagen zoo is a member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria. EAZA basically holds members to high standards, coordinates breeding programs, manages endangered species in captivity and governs animal transfers between parks. Their focus is on education, research and conservation.

The association also supported the decision of Copenhagen Zoo to “humanely put the animal down…”

That settles it! The Copenhagen Zoo AND the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria are CLEARLY being run by…
The devil is in the details. A respected zoo and the massive association of educated experts in animals in and out of captivity that maintains the zoo’s standards can’t be that outwardly evil.

Zoo officials sound cold when they speak of poor Marius in terms of being not genetically diverse enough. The gene pool is not deep enough to keep him and inbreeding is a risk to the whole group of giraffes. He couldn’t stay in Copenhagen.

Which begs the obvious question, why couldn’t they sell or ship a healthy two year old giraffe to another facility?

Of all the almost three hundred and fifty institutions and organizations in forty-one countries that are part of EAZA, only one seemed able to take Marius. Yorkshire Wildlife Park, also a member of EAZA, offered to save the animal but Copenhagen Zoo officials declined because Marius had a brother in Yorkshire. More gene problems.

EAZA members don’t sell or transfer animals to non-member facilities because they are not committed to the same high standards. They also consider their role not one of ownership, but of governance of the animals. Both probably the reasons why other institutions and one private individual (who was offering more than half a million dollars) were also not considered.

They couldn’t keep Marius and there was no other place in captivity for him. Which leaves only a couple, free the little tyke into the wild or euthanize him.

There are no programs to reintroduce giraffes into the wild. None anywhere.

Read the Copenhagen Zoo’s reasons for Marius’s euthanization.

Of course there is the whole debate on the ethical existence of zoos and wildlife parks. That judgement isn’t being deliberated here, though. I have juxtaposed beliefs on the concept of zoos. Regardless of what side of that fence you live on, in this moment, it’s irrelevant to the fate of Marius.

When faced with the decision to kill the giraffe, I think the Copenhagen Zoo wanted the end of his life to be as educational as the two years people watched him live. Not just in anatomy and animal behaviour, but also in the reality of animals in captivity.

People watched the death of Marius in person and thanks to public outcry and the media, folks saw it around the world too. The story strikes most as one of tragedy and horror. It’s easy to get angry and scream about the injustice of a needless and cruel death. There isn’t a lot of comfort in the “circle of life” argument. And while it’s true that if it was a less cute wild boar or deer, it likely never would have made a bump in the media, the public and seemingly callous nature of the story is hard to find peace in.

The real hard part is recognizing that Marius’s blood is on all of our hands. The biggest royal “we” called society. His life was the cost of our acceptance and support of the opportunity to see cute little fuzzy living giraffes up close yet safely behind glass. The truth is that animals around the world are put down quietly behind the scenes all the time for the same reasons.

UPDATE: If you don’t believe that last sentence, an article in the Metro seems to side with me on in here…

Maybe the most important part of this particular animal’s fate being so public was that point. Marius paid the price for our human curiosity and education. We “valued” him and his existence to death.

So while we pass judgement on the Copenhagen Zoo and the experts that manage it, call them horrible names and wish ill on their families, maybe we should really be turning that firing squad on ourselves. They may have slapped us in the face with reality, but the reality is that the zoo just did what we paid them too.

You can’t condemn them while paying the price of admission.


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