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Of inbreeding and surplus captive wildlife

February 22, 2014

FMT LETTER: From S M Mohd Idris, via e-mail

The tragic death of Marius, the giraffe, at Copenhagen Zoo has again brought to mind the question of inbreeding and surplus animals in zoos all over the world.

Zoos always seem to think they have an important role to play in educating the public, but to have Marius dissected publicly as a kind of lesson in humane slaughter has nothing to do with education or dietary habits of wildlife, but everything to do with getting rid of an animal that happened to be no longer useful to the industry.

Even as Marius grabbed the headlines news emerged of yet another five lions at Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire, UK which were put down because of genetic problems caused by inbreeding.

Both these zoos argued that they had no choice as these animals were ‘surplus’ to requirements. Marius a victim of giraffe breeding success by European zoos, but the zoo has no space to house this victim. As for the family of lions, they were becoming too aggressive in their cramped home. A question which begs to be answered is why were these animals bred at all?

Definitely the answers from Copenhagen zoo are only self serving and hypocritical. The zoo’s claims to have interest in the welfare and wellbeing of individual animals and their populations, yet when an animal has outlived its usefulness it is killed.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) doubts that culling is the zoo’s solution to maintain a healthy giraffe population to ensure unrelated giraffes breed. Marius is not from an endangered giraffe subspecies. Even if he were, there is no mechanism or intent of zoos to ever release giraffes back into the wild nor is there a reason to do so, so there is no valid conservation purpose for giraffes to be bred in captivity. The only reason to breed giraffes is because of their popularity as display animals.

It has long been recognised that as long as there are zoos, there will be unwanted animals. So long as there are unwanted animals, more like Marius will be killed. Marius death has served an important purpose in shining a spotlight on a practice which is normally kept well-hidden from public view.

What makes this outrageous is the fear that if this trend continues, zoos would be killing one innocent animal after another in order to breed further generations into a life in captivity. Killing a healthy animal because he or she is deemed ‘surplus to requirements’ is never acceptable.

The whole concept of zoos has got to be seriously questioned as our knowledge of animal behaviour, natural history and threats facing wildlife increases. Zoos have historically been about tourism, and providing a day of entertainment rather than anything to do with education, conservation and research.

The writer is president of Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)


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