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Zoo’s killing of giraffe wouldn’t happen here, Sedgwick County Zoo official says

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, at 7:27 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, at 7:36 p.m.

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What happened to Marius, a healthy 2-year-old giraffe killed by a zoo in Copenhagen to prevent inbreeding, probably would never happen at a North American zoo, the deputy director of the Sedgwick County Zoo says.

Marius became food for lions – a circle-of-life lesson witnessed live by visitors to the Denmark zoo on Sunday. Zookeepers shot the giraffe and then fed it to the lions, despite a petition against the killing that gained 20,000 signatures.

On Monday, Copenhagen Zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro said he and the zoo’s scientific director, Bengt Holst, received several threats by phone and in e-mails. They quoted one e-mail as saying: “The children of the staff of Copenhagen Zoo should all be killed or should get cancer.”

The Sedgwick County Zoo has four reticulated giraffes from Africa. Giraffes are relatively common in the wild but are managed in North America under a species survival plan by zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

“We have no intention of euthanizing any healthy giraffe for any genetic or demographic reason, as Copenhagen did,” said Ryan Gulker, deputy director of the Sedgwick County Zoo. “That is not something that would or could be accepted in the United States.”

Marius’ fate is interesting for many reasons, Gulker said, including that most people think nothing of killing cattle for food. The zoo feeds mice and fish to other animals, he added.

“A giraffe is basically a tall cow. It’s interesting how the public perceives one certain type of animal,” he said.

Culling animals is more common in Europe, Gulker said.

The Sedgwick County Zoo has three female giraffes and one male giraffe. Two of the female giraffes are adults and are on birth control. One of the females is the mother of the male giraffe, so the zoo doesn’t want it to become pregnant, and the other is “not one we want to breed” because of genetic diversity, Gulker said.

Opponents of the Copenhagen Zoo’s actions said that Marius could have been moved elsewhere. But Gulker said zoos have a finite amount of space.

Stenbaek Bro said the Danish zoo, which now has seven giraffes, followed the recommendation of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria to put down Marius because there already were a lot of giraffes with similar genes in the organization’s breeding program.

Kris Vehrs, executive director of North America’s Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said Monday on the associations’s website that North American zoos accredited by the organization “have a number of ways that they manage animal populations,” including science-based breeding recommendations and “cooperating to plan for adequate space.”

Vehrs also said that the Copenhagen Zoo was “well known for the quality of its conservation programs.” She noted that the programs and procedures of the European association “vary from those of the AZA.”

Contributing: Associated Press

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