Opinion: If Marius the giraffe really had to die, this was no way to do it

Protesters outside Copenhagen Zoo plead for Marius the giraffe not to be put down. Photo: AP Photo/P

Protesters outside Copenhagen Zoo plead for Marius the giraffe not to be put down. Photo: AP Photo/POLFOTO, Rasmus Flindt Pedersen - Credit: AP

A gangly, gorgeous giraffe name Marius has touched the hearts of millions of people around the world this week.

Alas, his fame was short-lived.

Genetically unsuited to further breeding, the powers that be at Copenhagen Zoo saw no alternative but to wield the axe.

I know that sounds a bit graphic but with the post mortem on Marius held in public view before an audience including young children and broadcast live on the internet that's not too far from the truth.

The zoo said Marius had to be killed because his genes were too similar to those of other giraffes in a breeding programme run by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA).

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There is, of course, plenty of scientific evidence being offered by the zoo to suggest why poor Marius should not be allowed to breed with other giraffes.

But did he really have to die, and in such a barbaric fashion?

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What about giraffe contraception? I hear you cry.

Apparently, giraffe contraception is still in its infancy and Marius would have to be sedated and there were fears he might collapse and break his neck during the procedure so let's not prolong the agony and kill him anyway, thought the zoo.

I can't help but feel that once Marius's death warrant was signed, there would be no stay of execution – a point underlined when offers from other zoos to re-house the young giraffe were rejected.

What has been so shocking about this case is the way it took on a gratuitous and barbaric tone. The first sick twist was when the zoo announced that it would use a bolt gun rather than lethal injection to finish him off because drugs would pollute the meat they were planning to feed to the lions in the zoo.

But to then conduct a post mortem examination in front of children visiting the zoo and screen it live on the internet before feeding the remains to the big cats was a step too far.

Some observers have suggested it was educational in the way it gave 'children a huge understanding of the anatomy of a giraffe' they wouldn't get from pictures and showed young people that in the wild, giraffes really are eaten by lions.

Total nonsense.

The savannah is an entirely different environment where the hunter tracks the hunted, there is a chase and death occurs in a natural landscape. That is quite different to the way Marius was treated.

It was not his fault that he was backed into the genetic corner as a by-product of an international breeding programme but I just cannot understand why, with several offers of new homes including one from the Yorkshire Wildlife Park, he had to be 'euthanised' as the zoo put it.

Even if he did, the zoo authorities should have used a degree of sensitivity by discreetly killing the animal with dignity and then preparing his meat and feeding him to lions out of the public gaze.

The bottom line is that you can't present a giraffe one minute as a lovely, beautiful creature that children may adore and queue up to see and then publicly butcher him for lion food the next.

This act of barbarism has damaged the reputations of zoos and will place them under ever greater public scrutiny, even those that would never partake in such killings. The fact that thousands signed an online petition to save his life should have sent a powerful message.

My view is that Marius did not have to die as there were plenty of alternative options. But even if he did, Copenhagen Zoo got this one badly wrong because chopping him up in front of the kids and feeding him to the lions was never the answer.

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