It seemed like most of the world was distraught at the pointless death of a young giraffe at a Copenhagen Zoo last Sunday.
Marius, less than two years old and healthy, was deemed surplus to the zoos requirements. Despite several offers of a new home, zoo director Bengt Holst defended the decision to kill him, telling media that it was needed to prevent inbreeding and it is ‘a little bit like a vaccination’. Gruesomely, the zoo even dismembered Marius in front of an audience and served him up to the zoo lions afterwards.
It also came out that a safari park in the UK has recently killed 6 of its lions, including cubs, due to a rise in pregnancies. The sad and absolutely pointless death of Marius and the lions highlights the truth that zoos are not a safe haven for animals. It’s long been known that zoos regularly kill surplus animals – they use it as a management tool so that they only have the animals they want for their exhibits. According to CAPS (The Captive Animals’ Protection Society), European zoos have around 7,500 surplus animals at any one-time. In New Zealand, guidelines state that zoos are allowed to kill animals – “when births occur despite animals being on a controlled breeding programme, i.e. unwanted pregnancies” or “when there is over-representation of a particular sex or genetic line”. In 2009 Zion Wildlife Park was accused by former workers of killing cubs by bashing them on the head with rocks.
We’re often told that zoos are essential for conservation but despite claims to the contrary, most zoo conservation programmes have poor results for the individual animals, and rarely reintroduce the animals to the wild. Most animal species in zoos are not endangered (the sub species of giraffe that Marius was from are not under threat) so are merely kept for public entertainment.
Even for those that are endangered, returning captive-bred animals to the wild is difficult, inefficient and costly and most zoos don’t even attempt it. The only true way we’ll help prevent extinction is in situ habitat protection.
We have to ask then, why are they here? It certainly serves little educational purpose. Animals in zoos suffer from excruciating boredom, social frustration and loneliness, which can lead to stress-induced zoochosis. Studying them in captivity gives us a skewed picture of their true behaviour and visitors leave without having learned anything significant – there is nothing inspiring about seeing depressed animals.
Zoos profit financially from showing baby animals. When they grow up they are not so interesting anymore. I think the Conservationist Damian Aspinall (and zoo owner who has seen the light) said it best “Zoos say they are in the business of conservation. In my opinion, that’s a lie. They are in the conservation of business.”
Mandy Carter, Campaign Manager