The world was outraged when a Copenhagen zoo put down a giraffe named Marius and fed him to the lions. But another Danish zoo announced today that it's thinking of doing the same thing. Is there something rotten in the state of Denmark? Or has America just developed more human laws regarding giraffe reproduction?
International laws regarding the humane treatment of zoo and circus animals are pathetically toothless. You think elephants want to stand on top of balls while insane clowns molest them with tricks? They do not. But there are continental standards that various zoos sign onto which govern the treatment (and killing) of their animals. Denmark is a signatory to the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria. According to those standards, zoos are not supposed to keep two breeding males in a pack with breeding females. Apparently, male giraffes can't be trusted to play nice around females any more than... well, male anythings can be trusted to behave themselves. The male giraffes don't like for the females to have a choice, so they beat each other until there is only one male left standing.
Which is really bad news for a Jyllands Park Zoo male giraffe who also happens to be named "Marius." Currently, Marius #2 lives happily with his brother Elmer (the Danes seem bad at naming giraffes). But Jyllands Park has asked for a breeding match for Elmer. Once they get a female giraffe... DEATH TO MARIUS! Like Copenhagen before it, Jyllands Park feels that it would be impossible to let Elmer and Marius fight it out. And the zoo doesn't have space for an additional giraffe enclosure, so the rules of the EAZA breeding program dictate that Marius be euthanized (which of course is a euphemism for "murdered without a chance to defend himself").
In America, this would never happen. Because in America (cover your ears, Obamacare haters), we practice birth control. The Association of Zoos & Aquariums — which is America's version of the European breeding agency — issued this statement about the original Marius situation:
"Zoos and aquariums in North America that are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) have a number of ways that they manage animal populations. Through the AZA Species Survival Plan® program, these methods include science based breeding recommendations and cooperating to plan for adequate space. AZA's Wildlife Contraception Center and AZA's Population Management Center help AZA members with the expertise and planning to manage animal populations."
It's not easy to sterilize giraffes — if you tranquilize them they can fall and break their long-ass necks. But it can be done. And the AZA suggests that giraffe family planning is the way to avoid surplus giraffes that eventually have to be culled for the good of the group.
But absent an international convention mandating the controlling giraffe populations through contraception instead of carnivores, there's nothing aghast onlookers can do to stop the Danes.
The state of nature is nasty, brutish, and short for the freakishly tall. Would it be more "humane" for the Danes to set Marius free, pursued by a pack of lionesses eager to start eating him while he's still alive? Would there be an international outcry when Marius-the-Cow is fed to the lions? Until we teach lions to eat tofu, nature is going to be full of bad options.