Copenhagen Zoo, Marius the Giraffe and Zoo Management

Copenhagen Zoo, Marius the Giraffe and Zoo Management
Zoo management in a nutshell

There has recently been a lot of commotion regarding Copenhagen Zoo's decision to destroy Marius the giraffe. A lot of people accused the Danish zoo of animal abuse and have said to never want to visit this zoo anymore.

Copenhagen is part of the EAZA, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, which is an organisation that helps it's members to exchange animals in favour of breeding programs, which are the main focus of any zoo. The EAZA also advices zoos and gives them specific guidelines (which are usually followed by the EAZA acreditted zoos) on maintaining their animals.

Zoos acreditted by the EAZA try to avoid inbreeding, they don't want animals related to each other to breed. This is very understandable as animals that are inbred are generally unhealthy. Marius, the young giraffe at Copenhagen, was closely related to the other animals in the breeding program, so it was in fact of no use to it. 

According to the EAZA, giraffes born in zoos have to be moved away from their family group. Female giraffes need to be moved to prevent inbreeding and bulls need to be removed to prevent the animals from fighting. 

Bull animals that are genetically very similar to other animals in the breeding program are relatively hard to relocate. In this case several zoos have offered to take this animal, but those zoos were no options. 

One of the zoos which offered Marius a home was Yorkshire, which is acreditted by the EAZA, but Yorkshire already houses a brother of the Danish giraffe, which means his genes are already represented in said collection. Besides, Marius had been on the surplus list for nearly a year (the SLWAP in England explained this in a Facebook post regarding what happened at Copenhagen). They had nearly a year to take him in, but only notified Copenhagen Zoo they wanted to have him when the decision to euthanise Marius was already made.

Another zoo which has offered Marius a place was Landgoed Hoenderdaell in the Netherlands. This zoo is not acreditted by the EAZA and apparentally offered Copenhagen money for the animal. One of the rules of the EAZA is that they can't sell their animals to other collections. Besides that Hoenderdaell is a relatively small park which  doesn't have an enclosure ready (their "savannah" practically is a muddy, fenced piece of land with some rheas, zebras and some goats). They were not ready to take the animal in. 

Anyway, so Copenhagen couldn't find a home for Marius, so they chose euthanasia. It may sound cruel to kill a healthy, relatively young animal, but it's part of zoo management and in this case it was necessary.

Copenhagen isn't the only zoo which destroys surplus. Many other zoos all around the world do this, however they often aren't as open about it and often do it with animals of which no-one would notice it. Most commonly hoofstock. I am from the Netherlands and can name at least 4 zoos here which practice this. One of them is the famous Rotterdam Zoo, which has decided to openly admit it on national television in support to Copenhagen.

After Marius was euthanised painlessly and afterwards the zoo decided to use this opportunity and dissect the animal in front of the public. There was a lot of critic about this, especially because there were children watching. I however think that this critic is unnecessary. If the kids really didn't want to see it they would have cried or told their parents. A normal parent would take his kid away from the dead animal and would continue their tour through the zoo. It was their own choice to watch the autopsy. The zoo offered the autopsy as an educational expierience, which is in my opinion a good thing. 

After Marius got dissected his remains got fed to the lions. The zoo also recieved a lot of critic regarding this. However this way Marius remains wouldn't be wasted, they could be used to be fed to the lions, who also sometimes eat giraffes in the wild. Aside from that carcass feeding has an improved behavioural effect on carnivores.

Personally I think the main problem is that the parents, whose genes were already both overrepresented in the EEP (the breeding program) were allowed to breed. If they would have prevented this, all this drama could have been prevented as well. However, contraception is in its infancy for giraffes. The drugs have various side-effects such as irreversibility. Using the contraception would have meant they could have lost vital animals in the EEP. So I think in the end, Copenhagen did what they had to do. They made the move which was best for the future of this species, which in the end is the most important thing.

I can understand it if anyone has his/her questions about this and I will answer them all if you comment.


  1. "Aside from that carcass feeding has an improved behavioural effect on carnivores ".. How so?

    1. Hi Harlie,

      When carnivores are fed entire carcasses it stimulates natural, social structures that aren't stimulated when the animals are given a small piece of beef or chicken each. The animals will have to compete for their meat, just like in the wild.