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Canadian zoo association questions wisdom of Copenhagen giraffe cull

Marius the giraffe is pictured in Copenhagen Zoo Feb.7, 2014.


The organization that represents many of Canada's zoos voiced some concern Monday over a Denmark zoo's decision to kill a young giraffe and feed its remains to lions in front of an audience.

The executive director of Canada's Accredited Zoos and Aquariums said such a public display hasn't been seen at a facility here.

"With respect to the events in Copenhagen, we question the wisdom of that practice," Massimo Bergamini told The Canadian Press. "It's something that needs to be considered very carefully."

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A healthy two-year-old giraffe named Marius was killed Sunday at the Copenhagen Zoo using a bolt pistol. Visitors, including children, were then invited to watch while the giraffe was skinned and fed to the lions.

The zoo said it killed Marius to prevent inbreeding, and it defended the public carving and disposal of the giraffe's carcass as a display of scientific knowledge about animals.

Bergamini suggested the Copenhagen Zoo could have been trying to teach its audience lessons about the cycle of life and about animals in the wild.

But, he said, such lessons have to be imparted with great care.

"We feel that one has to be very cautious when using animals in their care for education purposes," he said. "One has to weigh the educational value against the potential to shock."

Bergamini added that while euthanasia in some instances was "absolutely appropriate," it must be conducted only after careful consideration and a look at alternatives.

"(Euthanasia) is a practice that must be conducted according to well established procedures in a manner that is humane," he said.

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Before the giraffe was killed, the zoo received offers from other facilities and a private individual to house the animal. An online petition to save the giraffe had also received more than 20,000 signatures.

The killing triggered a wave of online protests and debate about zoo conditions around the world, including in Canada.

That discussion, according to one animal protection charity, was certainly welcome.

"(The Copenhagen Zoo) has actually done animals a favour in a sense in that by doing something so outrageous in front of the public, people are starting to ask questions," said Rob Laidlaw, director of Zoocheck Canada.

"This is making a lot of people realize that there are animals, many of them healthy animals, that are being killed by zoos who claim to have their best interests at heart."

The scientific director of the Copenhagen Zoo said the facility's giraffe breeding program is similar to those used in deer parks, where some deer are culled to keep populations healthy.

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The zoo said it doesn't give the giraffes contraceptives because they have unwanted side effects and the zoo believes parental care is an important part of the animal's natural behaviour.

Laidlaw suggested zoos could simply prevent over breeding by separating male and female animals at certain times.

"I expect the zoo thought that they were being bold or courageous," he said. "But I think they really exposed the hypocrisy of what they do to a large extent."

Officials at the Copenhagen Zoo said Monday that they received death threats over the phone and in e-mails after the giraffe was killed.

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