Met with a terrible fate: Marius the giraffe. Photo: AFP
To most Australians, zoos recreate a garden of eden, devoted to the production and nurturing of life where animals live to a healthy old age. The images from Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark where keepers ended the life of an 18-month-old male giraffe, named Marius, dissected the animal before a crowd of onlookers and then fed the remains to its lions shattered this illusion for many.
Unlike the public display in Denmark, Australian zoos prefer to keep their animal deaths private.
Last year, Taronga Zoo in Sydney killed 74 animals. A Himalayan mountain goat, a palm squirrel, a forest monkey with pneumonia, a mountain sheep with joint disease, and an infant gibbon abandoned by its mother at birth were among the animals killed. Five animals - two mice, two rats and a rabbit - were put down to manage populations.
Part of the process: Mountain goats at Taronga Zoo. Photo: Ben Rushton
None of the dead exotic wildlife nor native animals was fed to the zoo carnivores, a Taronga spokesman said, with the remains handled either by incineration or deep burial to meet government regulations on disposal. However, domestic animals from its farm exhibit were used to provide meat.
''In managing zoo animals, euthanasia is only considered as a last resort, and every avenue is explored for appropriate placement of an animal first,'' a Taronga spokesman said.
''Euthanasia is used in very specific circumstances, for example when an animal's quality of life is compromised by issues such as advancing age and deteriorating health, or in some cases when Australian wildlife are brought to zoos for care after being injured in road accidents or pet attacks.''
In Denmark, the Copenhagen Zoo's scientific director and other staff have been receiving death threats after Marius was shot on Sunday. Scientific director Bengt Holst said it was the right decision and he would do the same with another animal if needed.
The giraffes are part of a breeding program that aims to maintain a healthy giraffe population in European zoos by ensuring that only unrelated giraffes breed.
''If an animal's genes are well represented in a population, further breeding with that particular animal is unwanted,'' Mr Holst said. ''We could face the same problem with an elephant if there are too many males.''
Marius was killed despite the pleas of thousands who signed online petitions to save him. He was given his favourite breakfast of rye bread and then shot.
After an autopsy, some meat from Marius's carcass was fed to other zoo animals and some was sent to research projects in Denmark and abroad for study.
Dr Matthew Chrulew, a Curtin University academic who has researched and lectured on life and death in zoos, said the institutions generally avoided making a public spectacle of killing its animals.
''Much to their [zoo's] embarrassment, death is a constitutive part of life, something they produce not only accidentally … but at the very core of their functioning,'' he said.