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Danes defend zoo’s killing of giraffe

The Lions in Copenhagen Zoo eat the remains of a perfectly healthy young giraffe named Marius was shot dead at Copenhagen zoo on Febuary 9, 2014 despite an online petition to save it signed by thousands of animal lovers. (AFP PHOTO / SCANPIX DENMARK / KASPER PALSNOV)

COPENHAGEN: Many Danes Monday defended the killing of a healthy giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo that triggered outrage after it was fed to lions in front of visitors.

Zoo staff received death threats after the killing Sunday of the 18-month-old animal, named Marius, which shocked animal lovers around the world.

Thousands signed an online petition to save him, with a billionaire even offering to buy him and keep him in her Beverly Hills garden.

But in Denmark, a nation with many farms, an overwhelming majority of social media users felt the global outcry was a sign of hypocrisy and political correctness.

A leading expert on the ethics of the treatment of animals decried the “Disneyfication” of zoo creatures.

A journalist for the Politiken newspaper, Kristian Madsen, wrote on Twitter: “The whole world has gone crazy. What do they imagine the lions eat on days without a treat such as Marius? Brussel sprouts?”

Dorte Dejbjerg Arens, a project coordinator, said: “I’m still livid over Marius. How can people get so hysterical over a giraffe while cancer, the war in Syria and the [anti-immigrant] Danish People’s Party still exist.”

The giraffe was put down with a bolt gun and then chopped up and fed to lions in the zoo, as visitors including children looked on.

The zoo said on its website it had no choice other than to prevent the animal attaining adulthood since under European Association of Zoos and Aquaria rules, inbreeding between giraffes is to be avoided.

One expert said the relatively muted public reaction in Denmark could partly be explained by cultural factors.

“Denmark was urbanized relatively late, which is why the general opinion here is that it’s okay to keep and kill animals as long as you treat them well,” said Peter Sandoee, a professor of bioethics at the University of Copenhagen.

“Animal rights activists in Denmark aren’t nearly as strong as they are in Britain or the U.S.”

Arguing that “one of the most fundamental aspects of animals’ conditions in the wild is that only a fraction of them survive,” Sandoee lashed out at what he called the Disneyfication of zoos.

“You take this very romantic image of animals as people with fur or feathers. Animals are viewed as a type of citizen, with the implication that they should be treated on par with fellow human beings.”

A zoo’s primary job should be to preserve different species and contribute to learning about how animals live in the wild, he said.

In the past, the Copenhagen zoo had allowed tigers and lions to reproduce, killing the “surplus offspring” rather than castrating the animals or giving them contraceptives, he added.

“I think Copenhagen Zoo takes a progressive stance here because in doing so they [mimic] the animals’ natural life,” he said.

Copenhagen Zoo said two other zoos offered to take the giraffe, but that one was already part of the same breeding program, while the other didn’t have the same code of ethics.

“They would not, for example, sign a statement saying they wouldn’t sell their animals to a circus, and we can’t just close our eyes and send our animals anywhere,” scientific director Bengt Holst told public broadcaster DR.

The Natural History Museum in Aarhus has invited children to visit to watch autopsies on animals this week, which is when many students have their winter break.

“An experience that triggers ... the curiosity and most senses!” the museum said in a statement.

Among the animals set to be dissected in public are a raccoon, a badger and a blackbuck.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 11, 2014, on page 10.

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Summary

Many Danes Monday defended the killing of a healthy giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo that triggered outrage after it was fed to lions in front of visitors.

Zoo staff received death threats after the killing Sunday of the 18-month-old animal, named Marius, which shocked animal lovers around the world.

A leading expert on the ethics of the treatment of animals decried the "Disneyfication" of zoo creatures.

The zoo said on its website it had no choice other than to prevent the animal attaining adulthood since under European Association of Zoos and Aquaria rules, inbreeding between giraffes is to be avoided.

In the past, the Copenhagen zoo had allowed tigers and lions to reproduce, killing the "surplus offspring" rather than castrating the animals or giving them contraceptives, he added.


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