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Marius the reticulated giraffe died at the Copenhagen Zoo on Sunday. He was 2 years old.
The cause of death was a shotgun blast, and after an autopsy, the animal, who was 11 feet 6 inches, was fed to the zooâs lions and other big cats.
Zoo administrators said they decided to put down Marius, who was in good health, because his genes were already well represented among the captive giraffe population in European zoos. But that explanation failed to satisfy animal-rights activists who mounted a furious last-minute campaign to save him.
Besides nearly 30,000 online signatures from those who did want Marius put down, Copenhagen Zoo officials also received death threats after they turned down adoption offers from other zoos, as well as a bid of 500,000 euros, the equivalent of $ 681,000, from an individual who was willing to take Marius in.
One group, Animal Rights Sweden, urged people to stop visiting zoos as a protest, The Associated Press reported. âIt is no secret that animals are killed when there is no longer space, or if the animals donât have genes that are interesting enough,â the organization said in a statement.
Marius was born in captivity at the Copenhagen Zoo, where there are seven reticulated giraffes, a species that is native to Africa and is not endangered but faces threats from habitat loss and hunting.
âA giraffe is not a pet; itâs not like a dog or cat that becomes part of the family,â said Bengt Holst, the zooâs scientific director. âIt is a wild animal.â
Mr. Holst said he had decided against sending Marius to another zoo because that would have opened the door to inbreeding, and potentially removed a place for a giraffe whose genetic makeup was more valuable in terms of future offspring in captive breeding programs.
Mr. Holst seemed caught off-guard by the public protest, calling it âtotally out of proportion.â
âPeople said, âIf you kill the giraffe, Iâll kill you,’â he added. âItâs insane.â
âWe donât do it to be cruel; we do it to ensure a healthy population,â he said. âYou have to breed them to make sure the population is renewed.â
As for individual offers, Mr. Holst said giraffes were social animals and could not be kept in isolation.
Giraffes are allowed to breed in captivity since it is part of their natural behavior in the wild, Mr. Holst said, even though breeding can produce what he called âa surplus animal.â
âAs long as they are with us, we want them to have a good life, with as much natural behavior as possible,â he said.
Marius was not full grown, Mr. Holst said. He could have grown another three feet or so.
A shotgun rather than an injection was used to end the giraffeâs life so his meat would be safe to eat for the zooâs predator animals. And following an autopsy that was opened to visitors as an educational opportunity, Mariusâs remains were fed to the zooâs lions.
âWe still have meat for lions, tigers and leopards,â Mr. Holst said. âItâs just meat that can be fed to every animal.â
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