A zoo in Denmark killed a young giraffe with a bolt gun and fed its meat to the lions Sunday, saying the animal was “unwanted.”
Copenhagen Zoo said 18-month-old Marius had been euthanized the giraffe to avoid in-breeding
“When breeding success increases it is sometimes necessary to euthanize,” the Scientific Director Bengt Holst said on the zoo's website, acknowledging the decision has led to a “debate.”
Animal rights campaigners gathered outside the zoo to protest the killing, local media reported.
Marius could not be released into the wild as his attachment to humans would make him easy prey, and no other zoos with the same breeding program had room for him, the zoo said.
After killing Marius, the zoo carried out a public autopsy. Graphic pictures of the carcass were published in Danish media.
A British zoo offered to rehome the giraffe, ITV News reported, while an online petition to save him reached 28,000 signatures.
However, the zoo was undeterred.
“We see this as a positive sign and as insurance that we in the future will have a healthy giraffe population in European zoos,” Holst explained. "The same type of management is used in deer parks where red deer and fallow deer are culled to keep the populations healthy. The most important factor must be that the animals are healthy physically and behaviorally and that they have a good life whilst they are living whether this life is long or short.
"If an animal’s genes are well represented in a population further breeding with that particular animal is unwanted."
It added that the animal was killed with a bolt gun so that its meat could eaten, which would not have been possible if anaesthetic had been used.
The organization Animal Rights Sweden told The Associated Press the case highlighted what they believe zoos do to animals regularly.
"It is no secret that animals are killed when there is no longer space, or if the animals don't have genes that are interesting enough," the organization said in a statement. "The only way to stop this is to not visit zoos."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.