A giraffe became lion food at the Copenhagen Zoo Sunday to prevent inbreeding. The baby giraffe, Marius, had been the subject of a petition and repeated efforts to stop the slaughter, but the zoo claimed the animal's genes had already been too limited because of their breeding program.
The giraffe was fed to the lions after being shot with a bolt gun in front of various spectators, many of them children. The graphic display included a Copenhagen Zoo employee explaining the process while slicing up Marius into chunks, which were then fed to the big cats. A video of the incident was shot by production company localize, which made sure to capture the gore up close.
"I stood behind with a rifle, and when he put his head forward and ate the rye bread, then I shot him through the brain," Mads Bertelsen, the zoo veterinarian, told Reuters. "It sounds violent, but it means that Marius had no idea of what was coming. He got his bread, then he died."
27,000 people had signed a petition to save Marius' life, and others had offered to take the 18-month-old giraffe from the Denmark zoo. Yorkshire Wildlife Park of the U.K. said they would take Marius, and a private buyer offered 410,000 British pounds— $672,441 U.S. dollars— for the young giraffe, but their requests were ignored.
The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria said that because all captive giraffes are bred from the same limited gene pool, Marius couldn't be allowed to live. Even simply sterilizing it would make him take the place of other healthy giraffes who should be allowed to produce.
"Giraffes today breed very well, and when they do you have to choose and make sure the ones you keep are the ones with the best genes," Bengt Holst, Copenhagen Zoo's scientific director, told CNN. "The most important factor must be that the animals are healthy physically and behaviorally."
Despite Marius' gruesome death, Holst said that the children and adults watching were "enthusiastic" and that the "kids asked good questions."
Copenhagen Zoo destroys 20 to 30 animals a year, and some of the officials have been surprised at the outrage, as culling well-breeding animals from the population is a common practice at zoos.