Children visiting the Copenhagen Zoo received an entirely unwanted lesson on Sunday when they stood, open-mouthed, as keepers fed the body of a just-killed giraffe to a pack of lions. Survival of the fittest? Actually, this was a lesson in the colossal insensitivity of zoo officials.
Though healthy, the 2-year-old giraffe, known as Marius, was killed because officials feared he would contribute to inbreeding in the zoo’s giraffe population. Then the keepers fed Marius’s skinned remains to the lions, as gaping children looked on. Spread on social media, the story has provoked a tide of global anger.
It’s a sad truism that many people care more about harm to animals than to people, and the death threats directed at zoo employees are obviously unwarranted. Each of the seemingly brutal decisions on Sunday had a justification: Zookeepers didn’t want to waste the meat, and shot Marius instead of euthanizing him so he’d still be edible for lions.
Still, zoos that rely on public support should know better than to make such tone-deaf decisions. Zoos aren’t laboratories. They’re civic institutions that have to be responsive to public sentiment. Zookeepers may insist they were going by the book when they dispatched Marius, but perhaps a bit more equivocation would have led to a better way to protect the giraffe population without inflicting so much trauma on young children who wanted nothing more than to see some animals.