Healthy Giraffe Fed to Lions in Denmark Zoo; Facility Receives Deluge of Threats

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A Danish zoo is receiving hate mail from around the world after having killed a young, healthy giraffe to prevent inbreeding, then feeding it to the zoo's lions.

"I've got about 1,500 [texts] and e-mails, most of them are very hateful, addressed personally to me," Copenhagen Zoo scientific director Bengt Holst said.

Zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro said quoted one e-mail as saying: "The children of the staff of Copenhagen Zoo should all be killed or should get cancer."

The 18-month-old giraffe was killed by a gunshot Sunday at the Copenhagen Zoo and fed to lions in full view of visitors in person and via live stream.

Even more incredible? Marius' death took place even though an online petition gathered tens of thousands of signatures against the animal's demise.

The zoo also turned down offers from other zoos and individuals to take in the animal, which was born in captivity and is a species native to Africa.

Holst said it was killed to maintain a healthy giraffe population genetically, as inbreeding can cause animals to be born with significant deformations.

"If an animal's genes are well represented in a population further breeding with that particular animal is unwanted," he said in a statement Monday.

"As this giraffe's genes are well represented in the breeding program, there is no place for the giraffe in the Zoo's giraffe herd," and thus it was euthanized.

Some zoologists say they were baffled by that rationale. William Amos, professor of evolutionary genetics at the University of Cambridge, responded:

"It's simplistic to say the animal doesn't fit into our breeding plans - so then why let it breed it in the first place if you know it's not a desirable offspring."

"I think it's a rather feeble excuse," Amos went on, deriding the Copenhagen facility. "It's better to have another giraffe, particularly if it's a healthy one."

However, The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, which monitors international standards and of which Copenhagen is a member, backed the decision.

"Our aim is to safeguard for future generations a genetically diverse, healthy population of animals against their extinction," it said in a statement on its website.

"Copenhagen is highly involved in these programs and took a transparent decision that the young animal in question could not contribute to the future of its species further."

"Given the restraints of space and resources to hold an unlimited number of animals within our network and program, should therefore be humanely euthanized."

Amos said in response that nature has its own way of handling inbreeding. "Basically, we don't understand enough about these things," he said.

"The subject of inbreed depression, when close relatives breed, is a concern. However, when you get that, you tend to get (the death) of the (overbred animals)."

As the debate rages on, so does the contempt among the public. An online petition that once called for saving Marius is now calling for Holst to be fired.

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