Legally Brief: No Zoo Animal is “Surplus”Posted by Stephen Wells, ALDF Executive Director on February 13, 2014
This week, animal advocates around the world were horrified to learn of a Danish zoo that slaughtered a giraffe and then fed him to lions in front of children. The perfectly healthy, two-year-old giraffe, named Marius, was killed Sunday according to a Copenhagen Zoo spokesperson because he was considered surplus and his genes were already well-represented in worldwide captive giraffe populations—despite a petition begging for his life signed by tens of thousands of people, an offer from a private citizen of nearly $700,000 to spare his life, and offers from the Yorkshire Wildlife Park (which houses Marius’ brother) and a zoo in northern Sweden to take him.
The Copenhagen zoo also considered the killing of Marius to be an educational opportunity. Stunned spectators, including children, were invited to witness Marius’ death and the feeding of his body to lions. A zoo spokesperson is reportedly “proud” of the event for the anatomy lesson it gave children, according to the Associated Press.
But what it teaches children should give us all pause. By slaughtering Marius, the Copenhagen Zoo demonstrated apathy for Marius’ life and his individuality. It illustrates the common viewpoint of zoos (and most wildlife “management” agencies) that individual wild animals, whether captive or free-roaming, are not deserving of consideration as individuals—only “populations” matter. And it highlights how this view translates into a lack of concern for the well-being of animals in zoos or other captive environments.
No wonder then that life in most zoos consists of being displayed in unnatural and often immeasurably depressing, crowded concrete enclosures, separated from family members and thwarted from most natural behaviors. Marius’ life held so little value to his captors that his public execution was just another spectacle. That’s really what children learn from zoos, that wild animals’ lives don’t really matter. The killing of Marius is as awful a lesson for children, and an indictment of the culture within zoos.
Recently, ALDF called on the USDA to enforce the law and prosecute captive animal cruelty violations in North Carolina roadside zoos, where giraffes, baboons, llamas, camels, sheep, deer, and goats, have been found in horrendous conditions. The culture within zoos has made it commonplace even for “reputable” zoos to dump “surplus” animals at terrible roadside zoos like the one ALDF helped rescue Ben the bear from in North Carolina. Perhaps Marius’ fate was better than that of many animals sold or dumped by zoos right here in the US on such roadside hellholes.