Copenhagen zoo lion cull 'unethical and irresponsible,' critic says

After the Copenhagen Zoo euthanized four lions and a healthy young giraffe as part of their population management program, critics are calling for changes to the widespread practice of breeding 'surplus' animals that later need to be killed.

Director of Zoocheck says zoos are knowingly breeding animals that will need to be euthanized

Critics say that the killing of four lions at the Copenhagen Zoo, two of which are shown here eating the carcass of Marius the giraffe (who was euthanized at the same zoo last month) was unethical and that zoos are knowingly breeding animals that will need to be killed later. (Associated Press)

The founder of a Toronto-based animal rights group says that the euthanization of animals in zoos is a common practice globally, and that many zoos often breed animals that they know will need to be killed before their natural lives expire.

The practice has come under intense scrutiny recently, after the Copenhagen Zoo culled four lions earlier this week and also a young, healthy giraffe named Marius in February. Zoo officials euthanized Marius publicly and then fed his remains to the lions. 

Rob Laidlaw, an activist who runs Zoocheck — a Canadian animal protection charity started in 1984 — told Brent Bambury, the host of CBC Radio's Day 6, that managing zoo populations by killing otherwise healthy animals is "a part of zoo culture on a global basis."

In the case of the lions killed in Copenhagen — one adult male, one adult female and two young cubs — zoo handlers were preparing for the arrival a new lion that would begin a new pride. 

Markus Gusset, chief conservation officer at the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said the zoos actions were necessary taking into account "the natural behaviour of lions."

"This new male lion, along with two females, will form a new lion pride at the zoo ... What Copenhagen Zoo did is not wrong. The zoo has been consistent in its approach to animal population management."

But according to Laidlaw, many of the animals killed worldwide are in fact "surplus" and are only killed because zoos breed species unnecessarily. More than 70 per cent of species bred in captivity are common, and therefore have no conservation value.

“If you knowingly breed animals that are going to be surplus, that’s unethical and irresponsible. I don’t think that’s the way. I think it sends the wrong message to the public that animals are there to be disposed of when they don’t fit our needs," said Laidlaw. 

"They had a choice, and they chose to kill those lions. I think the idea that they've tried to perpetuate that this is some way reminiscent of what happens in nature is ridiculous. There is nothing about a zoo that is natural."