A young, healthy male animal has been humanely killed by a zoo. This has caused something of an outcry, with other animal parks offering him a home to try to save him and some people (OK, they were on the internet) saying it has ruined Denmark’s reputation as a humane society. But has it?
Putting down healthy, male animals is by and large what our food industry relies on. Of course many of those objecting will be animal rights activists and vegans and I can understand their fears. But I suspect many will have no particular qualms about drinking milk, or indeed munching a burger. So presumably then the fuss isn’t about killing an animal, but about the species.
So how rare was Marius? He would appear to have been a reticulated giraffe, but apparently all the sub species are endangered and have unstable populations so which sub species he was is presumably a moot point. So yes, one could argue that the zoo should not be killing a healthy animal from an endangered species. In which case we could cut out all the stuff about his doe-eyed cuteness. It shouldn’t matter if he’s cute or not, since a human’s idea of cuteness shouldn’t really affect decisions about species preservation (though obviously it does, yes Panda, I’m looking at you).
So given that Marius was rare, would breeding from him have been a good thing? Copenhagen Zoo is part of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria. Under their rules, Marius could not become a breeding male, since his genes are already well presented in the population. This does make me wonder why he was bred in the first place, but then I’m no expert on giraffe genetics.
How about keeping him and not breeding from him? Well that means keeping a non-breeding animal in a space that could be taken up by a breeding animal. It might please the sentimentalists, but it wouldn’t help the giraffe population. Apparently castration would not have been without its complications and I cannot imagine that a frustrated bull giraffe is an animal many zoos would want to have around.
I don’t think for a moment that it was a decision that was taken lightly by the zoo. When you’re dealing with animals of that size, with limited space and with the best interests of an entire population at heart, sometimes you have to make a tough decision that won’t make you popular. I have no problem with people objecting to the decision to kill Marius. But I do think they need to think through their objections. Whether he was cute or not is irrelevant. The real issue is whether or not breeding from him would have helped the giraffe population. Millions of animals are killed every day in far worse circumstances. I’m more worried about them, and the suffering of animals who are kept alive in poor circumstances, than I am about an animal who was killed as quickly and as cleanly as was possible.