Lions Euthanized at Copenhagen Zoo: The Discussion

lionsAfter the global uproar against the killing of a young, healthy giraffe last month, the Copenhagen Zoo euthanized four lions Monday, beginning a discussion about the morality of zoos. Two of the lions put down were what the zoo called a “very old” mating pair, while the others were their young offspring.

In February, the Copenhagen Zoo caught worldwide attention when they made the decision to kill a genetically unimportant giraffe, Marius. The zoo, a part of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, responded to criticism saying it was the “right thing to do,” as Marius’s mating would have caused inbreeding, a danger to the overall health of the species.

A statement by the zoo said, “Our aim is to safeguard for future generations a…healthy population…against their extinction.”

Protesters of Marius’s killing said the zoo was both inhumane and rash in its decision. Marius was shot, rather than euthanized so his body could be fed to lions. If euthanized, the meat and blood would have been poisonous. Additionally, those opposed said the zoo did not bother to look into alternatives.

An online petition signed by more than 27,000 people said it was the “[zoo’s]…responsibility to find him a home, no matter how long it [would take].”

The Copenhagen Zoo began again the discussion about morality when they euthanized four lions on Monday. The two older lions were put down because the zoo felt they were too old to nurse any new offspring. The other two, their cubs, were young and healthy. However, a new genetically important lion is being brought to the zoo, and officials said it would kill the younger cubs.

The director of the EAZA, Lesley Dickie wrote an article for CNN addressing the matter. She said the institution’s top priority is the “protection of the species as a whole.” In a separate CNN article, the director of The Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS), Liz Tyson argued against Dickie. Tyson noted that Marius was not from the “rare sub-species” which the EAZA claims to protect and questioned the need for giraffe’s captivity in the first place.

Tyson also questioned the zoo’s birth control policy. She said that Marius’s death could have been avoided if he had never been born. Previously unsafe, female contraception in giraffes can now be performed using a method of injection from a distance. Tyson argues this proves the giraffe’s birth was not “inevitable,” as the zoo said. Dickie focused instead on the solution to the already existing Marius saying, castration in males “can have…undesirable side-effects, and a place that could…be reserved for an animal…[contributing] to its species’ future [would be] lost.”

Dickie, in support of the Copenhagen Zoo’s killing of Marius and the four subsequent lions, said the events were in accordance with the “strict standards of animal…welfare” upheld by the EAZA. Tyson, however, argued the standards of the EAZA (especially over inbreeding concerns) are inconsistent, and therefore do not justify the death of either the lions or Marius.

Tyson points out that the EAZA prohibits the breeding of white lions, as the strange pigmentation comes only as a result of inbreeding. However, both the Paradise Wildlife Park and West Midland Safari Park breed white lions. While the EAZA is defending the Copenhagen Zoo’s actions, Tyson argues it is ignoring the problem it claims to be solving in other member zoos.

A similar argument led Tyson to point out a different incident in 2012 with the West Midland Safari Park. The institution, an EAZA member, was found to have sold four white lions to a Japanese circus, Kinoshita. Dickie, in the article defending Marius’s death said that EAZA, “cannot in good conscience…transfer…animals under our protection to zoos which are not our members.”

The apparent inconsistency with the EAZA guidelines has caused many around the globe to rally against all its member zoos. The decision by the Copenhagen Zoo to euthanize four lions only a month after the death of Marius further ignites the discussion of the morality of captive environments.

By Erin P. Friar




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