Jennifer Still
Updated Feb 10, 2014 @ 9:00 am

Chances are, you’ve been to a zoo before at some point in your life – perhaps a child or maybe even with your own. While there are numerous moral issues with zoos in terms of animal welfare, most of us can recall visiting them during our younger years, coming face-to-face with creatures that we’d otherwise have no chance to encounter in the flesh and marveling at their size, power and sheer beauty. It’s hard to say which of the animals were the most majestic; was it the lion and its vibrating roar or the sleek and graceful giraffe, head high in the trees as it munched on leaves? Maybe it was the kangaroo, hopping around the grassy knoll at the speed of light, or the chimpanzee, swinging from tree to tree with shocking ease.

Regardless of your animal preference, lovers of our wild creatures were enraged and heartbroken this past weekend when it was reported that Copenhagen Zoo had shot and killed its 18-month-old giraffe named Marius, a perfectly healthy animal whose only fault was being deemed “surplus” and unnecessary to the zoo’s population. He was shot in the head so as not to “contaminate the meat” and then publicly dissected in front of children and adults visiting the park before being fed to lions.

Marius’ fate seemed to be sealed long before he was actually killed. Despite a petition which gathered 27,000 signatures pleading for his life, as well as a homing offer from Yorkshire Wildlife Park, the Danish zoo went ahead with the killing for no apparent reason than the aforementioned “surplus” problem. As Bengt Holst, Director of Research and Conservation at Copenhagen Zoo, shoddily explained:

So basically, you intentionally breed animals but when your breeders haven’t done a very good job and you happen to bring more giraffes into the world than you initially intended, it’s suddenly the animal’s fault and they deserve to be killed, even if someone else is happy to give it a safe and happy place to live? Something in the water ain’t right here, kids, and everyone knows it. Holst has apparently been receiving threats via email and telephone since Marius’ death.

The excuse for failing to transfer Marius to the British zoo which offered to take him is even less acceptable, with Holt saying:

I’m not a zoologist, but how a giraffe from a completely different country (and therefore a completely different herd) breeds with a totally new giraffe population, how on earth is that inbreeding? And wouldn’t it be better to perhaps castrate it rather than kill it if inbreeding were really a concern? Also, how is it that you let Marius live for nearly two years before declaring him “surplus”? It just doesn’t hold water.

Animal rights activists – and all human beings with hearts – are outraged, and rightly so. Perhaps this event will cause more strict controls to be put in place and start a dialogue within our society of our practice of operating zoos and keeping wild animals in captivity in general.

RIP, Marius.

Featured image via The AP