The Euthanizing of Zoo Animals in European Zoos

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In Europe, zoos have been euthanizing healthy animals. The zoos are killing animals because the zoos want to prevent inbreeding between animals and help with gene control. Zoos want to make sure that not too much of one gene is over represented. The euthanization of a healthy zoo animal helps to prevent inbreeding and gene control. However, there are many other ways to approach the issue without euthanization. The zoos are concerned about inbreeding between animals because it can lead to future issues.

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Other zoos in Europe are willing to adopt the animals, but the zoos refuses to give away the animal (Bekoff). An online petition was created to hold off on the euthanization until another home was found for Marius the giraffe, which received thousands of signatures (Bekoff). Marius was a healthy two year old giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo. He was euthanized because of his genes (Bekoff). In the article “Opinion: Killing Healthy Zoo Animals Is Wrong—And the Public Agrees,” Marc Bekoff said “Marius was killed despite the fact that another facility had offered him a home in which he could live out his life in peace and safety.” (bekoff). The zoos use the animals for educational purposes.

Dissections of the euthanized animal will be held for the public, including school children. (King). Not only do zoos publically dissect the animal they have euthanized, they also feed the animal remains to the large cats and carnivores at the zoo (Bekoff). There were opportunities for these animals to be saved, but after the animals were killed they were dissected and fed to other animals. Zoos in Europe have become more of a breeding mill than an interactive, educational place (Bekoff). If an animal does not fit exactly what the zoo demes suitable for their breeding programs, then they euthanization the animal. Bekoff “Now, with the deaths of the four lions, the Copenhagen Zoo wants to become a lion mill, I would argue, and still seems to think killing healthy animals is perfectly okay.” (Bekoff) Zoos say that they want animals to practice natural behavior, but as soon as the animal does not fit what the zoo wants, the animal is euthanized. In the article Why Do European Zoos Kill Healthy Animals?, Barbara King made the statement “struck by the terrible irony represented here: Zoos like this enclose animals in captivity, allow them to practice “natural behavior” of mating and reproduction, then slaughter them when they are no longer viewed as helpful to the project of coaxing visitors through the gates.” The Copenhagen Zoo also killed four healthy lions, two females and their cubs (Bekoff). They killed the animals so that they would have room to bring in a new male lion to breed with other females (Bekoff).

These animals are only being used for breeding and are not being treated as real live animals. The zoos who are killing the animals are not only killing them, but are killing them in a less humane way that is referred to as “zoothanasia.” Bekoff describes zoothanasia as “killing done by zoo workers because an animal is no longer needed for one reason or another and is deemed to be a disposable object rather than a sentient being.” The Copenhagen zoo killed Marius the giraffe by a bolt gun instead of using medicine like traditional euthanization. The EAZA (European Association of Zoo and Aquarium) has a policy on euthanization and the four reasons for euthanization are if the animal is suffering from being sick, if they are unsafe to humans, are being transferred to substandard facilities, or if their genes are causing an issue (Barnes). The EAZA council released an euthanization policy and it said, “Any culling procedure by an EAZA member must conform to the national legislation of the country in which it is located.” Zoothanasia is a cruel act that does not have to happen, and is something zoos choose to do. In European zoos there are many animals with the same genes. The zoos euthanize animals to help keep the genes under control, keeping animals from inbreeding and causing issues with the offspring and overrepresentation of genes (King).

There are surpluses of animals and their genes, and proponents of “zoothanasia” argue that unless European zoos start using contraception as is done in American zoos, the killings will continue (Barnes). In the article “How Many Healthy Animals Do Zoos Put Down?” Michael Sorenson notes that the number of animals being euthanized is less than ten, a number which he notes zoos, have in surplus,” (Barnes). Sorenson makes the claim that ultimately the issue of “zoothanasia” is overblown, noting that when the actual numbers are examined it is clear that these actions only impact a negligible percentage of the animals in these zoos. When the Copenhagen Zoo decided to euthanize Marius the Giraffe, it was because he was a male. Giraffes, especially males, are moved to other zoos because when they become about one or two years old they begin to fight (Parker). The EAZA says that the killing of animals is a valid reason to help with future gene problems for things like demographics and human care for the animals. The euthanization of these animals has cause and is necessary for the animals to be healthy. After the animals have been euthanized it can be used for educational purposes. The Odense Zoo in Denmark had an educational dissection for children on break from school. The Odense Zoo has been doing public dissections for years (King). Parker notes in his article that after Marius the giraffe was killed, Holst, the Copenhagen Zoo’s scientific director, talked quite a bit about education and scientific research on television (Parker).

Denmark does not try to hide the fact that they euthanize their animals. Other European countries try to hide it and even deny it (Parker). Parker also said, “In Denmark, culled animals are viewed as educational opportunities, and as meat for other captive animals.” The animals that have been euthanized are seen as exceptional educational tools. If one gene is over represented then it can cause inbreeding, Marius the giraffe is a perfect example of why they would get rid of an animal with over represented genes. He did not have the right genes for the breeding program (Bekoff). To detirmine which animal gets to saty at the zoo depends on their genes. If the animal does not have good genes, then it will be euthanized (Barnes). In her article “How Many Healthy Animals Do Zoos Put Down?” Barnes said, “One of them is never going to breed because it’s genetically not important enough, but the other one is more important.” The European zoos prefer to use “Breed and Cull” instead of the American system of contraception (Parker). Parker argues that contraceptives are not viable alternatives for zoos because they carry, “medical risks, and because animals can become infertile if they don’t breed, and because zoos must deprive animals of many natural behaviors, it’s important to allow them to mate and raise infants.” The risk of inbreeding and having complications with the animals is an issue, and euthanization, proponents argue, is a way to prevent that. There are issues that euthanization can resolve, but there are other options without having to kill the animals. There are other steps to take that can prevent inbreeding and overrepresentation of genes.

Also animals can be used as an educational tool without the need to kill them. To prevent inbreeding, use forms of birth control, neuter the animals, or separate them instead of euthanizing them and using the “breed and cull” method (Parker). Animals in zoos have been reproducing more recently, and if they are producing more than that means more animals would have to be euthanized. Instead of euthanizing the animal, administer a form of birth control (Parker). To be apart of the EAZA the zoos have to sign up for breeding programs. The EAZA does not disclose or publicize these records. In the article How many healthy animals do zoos put down? Barnes said “in the programme there is a studbook – a kind of inventory which records every animal’s birth, genetic makeup, and death.” If zoos were actually concerned with the animal then they would find ways to prevent breeding. The animals can still be educational without having to die, there are other zoos around the world that still use animals as educational tools without killing them. In his article “Opinion: Killing Healthy Zoo Animals Is Wrong—and the Public Agrees,”Bekoff said, “They run counter to global programs in humane education and compassionate conservation, in which the life of every individual animal is valued” (Bekoff). . Animals that are used for educational purposes should be valued like they are in other countries; they should not be viewed as food for other animals (Parker). The zoos can show parts of the animal without killing them.

If the zoos want it to be interactive, they should use an animal that has been tamed so that it is safe. These animals can be used for educational purposes, but they do not have to die. Take steps to prevent over representation. If they are worried about certain animals breeding then separate them; it could save many animals. There is a greater need for female animals than males, so male animals are more likely to be euthanized, which could be prevented if they used a form of birth control or separation (Parker). The animals are being euthanized because they do not have the right genes or their genes are overrepresented, so there are many steps they could take without killing the animals. Zoos are receiving backlash as many people see it as animal abuse (Parker). A quote from a civilian from the article “Killing Animals at the Zoo,” “Oh man, I’ve seen a lot of abuses in my life, but this baby Giraffe killing at the Copenhagen Zoo is overwhelming. I have to take a cry walk.” There are many options to keep theses animals from dying, if the zoos really cared they would make an attempt to keep these animals alive. The zoos in Europe are euthanizing healthy animals to prevent over representation of genes within the animals. Most of the zoos are euthanizing their animals in inhumane ways without medicine by using a bolt gun to the head. The zoos could take measures to help save the animals without having to kill the animal. The euthanization of animals has been proven effective when the animal is sick or suffering, but they should not have to die just because they do not have the right genes.

Works Cited

Council, EAZA. “EAZA Culling Statement.” EAZA, 30 Apr. 2015,

Barnes, Hannah. “How Many Healthy Animals Do Zoos Put Ddown?” BBC News, BBC, 27 Feb. 2014,

Parker, Ian. “Killing Animals at the Zoo.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 29 Oct. 2017, 9th 2017 (1)&CNDID=29481127&spMailingID=10195661&spUserID=MTMzMTgzMDAyNjkyS0&spJobID=1080723137&spReportId=MTA4MDcyMzEzNwS2

Bekoff, Marc. “Opinion: Killing Healthy Zoo Animals Is Wrong-And the Public Agrees.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 28 Mar. 2014,

King, Barbara J. “Why Do European Zoos Kill Healthy Animals?” NPR, NPR, 14 Oct. 2015,

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The Euthanizing of Zoo Animals in European Zoos. (2019, Dec 27). Retrieved from