Copenhagen Zoo turned down offers from other zoos and 500,000 euros ($680,000) from a private individual to save the life of a healthy giraffe before killing and slaughtering it Sunday to follow inbreeding recommendations made by a European association.
The 2-year-old male giraffe, named Marius, was put down using a bolt pistol and its meat will be fed to carnivores at the zoo, spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro said. Visitors, including children, were invited to watch while the giraffe was dissected.
Marius' plight triggered a wave of online protests and renewed debate about the conditions of zoo animals. Before the giraffe was killed, an online petition to save it had received more than 20,000 signatures.
Stenbaek Bro said the zoo, which now has seven giraffes left, was recommended to put down Marius by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria because there were already a lot of giraffes with similar genes in the organization's breeding program.
The Amsterdam-based EAZA has 347 members, including many large zoos in European capitals, and works to conserve global biodiversity and to achieve the highest standards of care and breeding for animals.
Stenbaek Bro said EAZA membership isn't mandatory, but most responsible zoos are members of the organization.
Stenbaek Bro said Copenhagen Zoo turned down an offer from a private individual who wanted to buy Marius for 500,000 euros ($680,000). Stenbaek Bro said a significant part of EAZA membership is that the zoos don't own the animals themselves, but govern them, and therefore can't sell them to anyone outside the organization that don't follow the same set of rules.
He said that is important for the breeding programs to work.
When asked if other zoos had offered to take in Marius, the spokesman said yes but didn't specify numbers or which ones.
The zoo's scientific director Bengt Holst said the giraffe breeding program is similar to those used in deer parks, where red deer and fallow deer are culled to keep populations healthy.
"The most important factor must be that the animals are healthy physically and behaviourally and that they have a good life while they are living whether this life is long or short. This is something that Copenhagen Zoo believes strongly in," he said in a statement.
Holst said the zoo doesn't give the giraffes contraceptives because they have "a number of unwanted side effects on the internal organs" and the zoo believes parental care is an important part of the animal's natural behaviour.