“How many healthy animals do zoos put down?” the BBC wanted to know.
It was a good question, given the worldwide outrage this month over a zoo in Copenhagen, Denmark, that had a healthy giraffe named Marius shot in the head, dismembered in front of a crowd of children, and fed to the lions, tigers and leopards.
The Copenhagen Zoo argued that it killed the “surplus” giraffe to avoid the possibility of inbreeding and, hey, the big cats have got to eat. Why let all that perfectly good giraffe meat go to waste? It proceeded in spite of the fact that over 27,000 people had signed a “Save Marius” online petition.
BBC’s Hannah Barnes asked the zoo’s Scientific Director Bengt Holst how often the zoo culls animals. “We all know it’s done every day,” he said. “If I should take an average over 10 years — it could be probably something like 20, 30 [per year].”
The Copenhagen Zoo, Barnes reported, “has put down leopards, tigers, lions, bears, antelopes and hippos in recent years.” Also, “Just a week before Marius was put to sleep, another Danish zoo killed two lions.”
Nor is Denmark an outlier. Lesley Dickie, executive director of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, estimates “somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 animals are ‘management-euthanized’ in European zoos in any given year.”
That may be an undercount, because records of animal deaths are rarely available to the public and are often dodgy: “Dickie warns that sometimes an animal is just listed as having died, without any indication whether it was for medical or management reasons.”
Notable animal deaths that the BBC was able to track down included five giraffes, four hippos, 22 zebras and 11 Arabian Oryx. In 2010, four zookeepers at Germany’s Magdeburg Zoo were prosecuted for killing three tiger cubs “without reasonable cause.”
Barnes wasn’t able to get a good fix on the total number of European zoo killings, but warned, “Whatever the number is, there are good reasons to assume it is probably growing.”