PITTSBURGH — The images out of the Copenhagen Zoo were startling. An 18-month-old giraffe, sprawled on the floor during a public necropsy, zookeepers examining the body while children and their parents looked on.

Staff at the Danish zoo euthanized the healthy giraffe, saying it was not needed for breeding and its genetic similarity to other giraffes could harm the overall European population. The giraffe, named Marius, was shot in the head, publicly dismembered and fed to the zoo’s lions, despite offers from other zoos to take the animal.

On Wednesday, Jyllands Park Zoo in western Denmark said it might cull one of its giraffes, coincidentally also named Marius, to make room for future breeding endeavors.

Resulting outrage swiftly made its way across the pond, but zoos in the United States say this would not happen in an American facility because accredited zoos have a policy against using animals as food.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums oversees more than 200 facilities in the United States, including the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

The zoos association has various centers, including the Population Management Center at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago and the Wildlife Contraception Center at the St. Louis Zoo, to monitor animal populations.


“There are very different philosophies between European practices and the AZA,” said Sharon Dewar, public relations director for the Lincoln Park Zoo. “We only breed animals that we are assured can be cared for and housed for the entirety of their natural life.”

After the incident in Denmark, many questioned why the zoo did not pursue transferring Marius or imposing some form of contraception to prevent reproduction. The zoo released a statement on its website outlining its decision.

“In Copenhagen Zoo we let the animals breed naturally. With naturally we mean that they will get young within the same intervals as they would in the wild,” said zoo scientific director Bengt Holst in the statement. “Contraceptives have a number of unwanted side effects on the internal organs and we would therefore apply a poorer animal welfare if we did not euthanize.”

A statement from the European association said the group “fully supports the decision of the zoo to humanely put the animal down, and believes strongly in the need for genetic and demographic management within populations of animals in human care.”

The Jyllands Park Zoo in Denmark is not EAZA-accredited, and association officials said they do not support the decision to euthanize the second Marius.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Jorg Jebram, who oversees the European endangered species program for giraffes for the association, said until recently, contraception required sedation, which puts giraffes at risk to break their necks when they fall.

The U.S. association employs a species survival guide, which evaluates all species every one to three years and gives recommendations to zoos whether to breed animals based on factors including housing availability and population size. If it is deemed not advisable, zoos can employ a number of contraceptive methods.

At the Lincoln Park Zoo, deceased animals would never be fed to other animals, Dewar said. Other American zoos offered similar sentiments.

“We don’t use euthanasia of our animals for population management,” said a spokeswoman from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

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