Marius. Photograph by Keld Navntoft/AFP/Getty Images

Marius. Photograph by Keld Navntoft/AFP/Getty Images

When I first heard about the killing of the baby giraffe Marius in the Copenhagen Zoo I thought it was a joke. It seemed like some absurd satire about an evil zookeeper, something I could have seen on Funny or Die: a healthy two year-old giraffe is lured away from the other giraffes by his veterinarian caretaker with a piece of rye bread, only to have his brains blown out, and his lifeless body skinned, sawed into pieces, and fed to the lions. All of this was done in full view of hundreds of people—including a lot of children.

And they filmed it.

So who’s running things over there at the Copenhagen Zoo, Ted Nugent?

No, it’s actually a man named Bengt Holst. His official title is “Director of Research and Conservation.” The “research” involved in this act, according to Holst, was showing children how big the giraffe’s heart was and that a giraffe had the same amount of vertebrae as a human, “and so on.”

The “conservation” part of his title—well, based on his own words, to conserve sometimes you have to not conserve.

I’ve looked over the zoo’s website and I will say that there seems to be a certain consistency between their callous treatment of Marius and their overall philosophy. Their mission statement has only a few mentions of animals, and the language is bloodless, with no mention of animal welfare or ethics except in one example, describing how they are caged: “…high standards and quality regarding the keeping of animals and the standard of animal enclosures… good architecture and design add to the value and quality of the experience.”

They certainly care a lot about their cages. And the “quality of the experience” they are referring to, if the way they dispatched their baby giraffe is any example, is obviously the human one, not the animal one.

The closest their mission statement gets to acknowledging animals as living beings is their last paragraph in their mission statement, “Be actively involved in the international efforts to preserve animal species and habitats and thereby contribute to the conservation of the biodiversity.”

More bloodless language. Keep in mind, the “conservation” zoos supposedly practice always begins with the kidnapping of a wild animal from its natural habitat and its enslavement behind bars—usually for life.

So the Copenhagen Zoo’s mission statement has very few mentions of animals—you know, the point of visiting a zoo—and the section ends with this statement:

All of these activities must be based on science.”

Holst has given many interviews by now. From what I can gauge the “science” involved in the killing of Marius consisted of an autopsy aimed at children so they could learn the “vertebrae” and “big heart” facts—facts which of course the children could have looked up in a book or online, rather than witnessing the assassination of a healthy young giraffe.

Holst has also said that this live killing and dismemberment “helps increase the knowledge about animals but also the knowledge about life and death.” Surely he is not saying that blowing a giraffe’s brains out, carving it up into chunks, and throwing it to the lions is how life and death works in nature?

The other aspect of the “science” Holst refers to, and the key to why Marius was killed, is the breeding programs the zoos utilize.

Since zoos keep so few animals (mainly because of space), the gene pool of the captured animals is very small. Inbreeding has to be avoided—otherwise unhealthy animals could be born.

Some zoos will practice contraception, sparing the animal’s life. Or they’ll sell them to circuses or less savory animal “attractions,” transactions that the zoos try to keep secret since it is known that animals in these other venues have even worse lives than in zoos.

Keep in mind that this is an artificially narrow gene pool created by the zoos themselves—the ones capturing, enslaving, and breeding very small numbers of formerly wild animals.

In the end, many zoos—particularly European ones, but zoos all over the world, including in the United States—will just kill healthy animals for the sake of the standards of the gene pool. The figure in Europe alone is 3000-5000 healthy animals killed per year.

Usually not in the open though.

Zoos are always trying to uphold a compassionate-toward-animals image, because it keeps the families coming to visit and paying their money. This is why the killing of Marius is so startling and revealing.

Many people were outraged after watching the documentary Blackfish, in which we saw the consequences of kidnapping and enslaving an orca whale named Tilikum—how to SeaWorld, the life of the whale and the safety of the trainers who were hurt or even killed by this abused animal seemed to pale in comparison to SeaWorld’s desire to uphold the image of their “fun” theme parksand the desire to make money.

Marius and every other animal confined in zoos are seen no differently. With zoos, instead of whales in bathtubs we have giraffes in prison cells. Tilikum and Marius are products, useful as long as keeping them around makes economic sense. Tilikum has been largely banished from performing (without SeaWorld admitting any wrongdoing or addressing the issues), and Marius was shot because his existence was inconvenient.

When I was a kid I visited zoos on several occasions. What child wouldn’t be excited to see a “wild” animal up close? I think every child visits a zoo with an innocent curiosity and a natural desire to observe and maybe even bond with an animal. Certainly as a child I had the expectation that the veterinarians at the zoo cared for the animals and loved them.

Looking back on these visits, I can’t ever remember one animal that was doing anything but lying down, looking dazed and lethargic. They were never close enough to touch—which is what I was thrilling to do, to touch a “wild” animal—and they sure didn’t seem to want to be touched.

They didn’t look happy at all.

The killing of the baby giraffe Marius might just be a watershed event, in that it exposes the lie that zoos really care about the welfare of animals—Holst himself has said, “we can’t be led by emotion,” in the pursuit of “science.”

Of course Mr. Holst doesn’t want us to use emotion when thinking about animals in zoos. Because emotion leads us to feel compassion, and points us to considerations of ethics and morality.

But even putting emotion aside, does blowing a baby animal’s brains out and sawing the carcass up in front of children even make much common sense? The Copenhagen Zoo is so desperate to justify this cruel act they won’t even admit it was a bonehead move on a public relations level.

For me as a boy of six visiting those zoos years ago, I knew that something wasn’t right with the animals. I couldn’t put my finger on it, I couldn’t articulate it, but I knew.

I am betting most of the children who were at the Copenhagen Zoo that day knew there was something wrong about carving up a baby giraffe and pulling its heart out.

You’re right, Mr. Holst, the children did learn a lot that day.

They learned that zoos are horrible places for animals.


  1. No mere accident children were present. It was orchestrated. They know that most children will call to question their own intuition in favor of what authority dictates. It is a system, their system, which feeds off itself. With schemes so encompassing, convoluted, and bewitching that most under its spell—and most are under its spell—never break from it, having no idea they are controlled by it; e.g. citing reasons of science and research, and believing it!—what nonsense. But then, I’m just an aging conspiracy theorist so pay no mind.

    Thank you Michael for your excellent article, and thank you for being among the Knowing.

    • I hope you’re wrong about the extent of this, but perhaps I’m naive. It was so horrifyingly, ridiculously savage that perhaps that is an explanation we have to consider. Thanks, Peter.

  2. I think that it shouldn’t be legal to have a zoo.
    Having a zoo just to pleasure and entertain humans are so fundamentaly wrong.
    Thank you for sharing this sad buth very true story.

  3. It’s sad that we need to witness a horrible story like that for people to realise that zoos are really concentration camps.

  4. People seem to really trust zoos and their ‘conservation’ propaganda – definitely something to do with their appeal to ‘science’ and ‘education’. Zoos will say whatever they need to, to justify their exploitation of animals. If the people operating zoos really cared about animals there would be no zoos.

    There is a very beautiful (and sad) video of Marius on Youtube, filmed just before he was killed. You may have seen it.

    • All true, what you say. I was not aware of these gene pool killings before Marius though, so that was eye-opening for me. I watched the video, it is sad (though it looks like it was cut to a piece of music, which I think has been lifted out). He was so beautiful.

  5. Hi there! I heard this on the news too. I was a bit amazed that first they would do it, second that they would make it public as in having cameras and second that they would invite children to see the slaughter. I´ve only been once to a zoo and that was a school trip, I can understand if they capture endangered species to keep them from zooming out of the planet completely but the bears, crocodiles, all those others….never saw the point. I see though that is for public entertainment mostly not for the animals. So that´s my take on it, and also thanks for passing by my crazy un paid blog.

    Stay Frosty gent.

  6. michael: i had the same initial reaction to this story, had to read and see it a couple of times before i realized it was true. it was hard for me to fathom and wrap my head around and there was no way it could be real in my mind. then i found out it was very real. it made me so sad, and i could not understand any of the reasoning (or lack thereof), of any of it. why not find a way to reintroduce it back into the wild where it is meant to grow up or as a compromise, give it to another zoo or animal sanctuary somewhere? i cannot even imagine the baby giraffe’s death or the horror of the children that witnessed all of this ‘in the name of science.’ it is awful that the person running the zoo adheres to the philosophy he does, and awful that this goes on. very, very sad.

    • Yes, I agree. But I think ultimately most zoos are aligned with this guy’s philosophy–they just keep it secret. The bizarre choice to display the cruelty and the lack of sense openly in my opinion casts a light on how bad zoos really are–all of them. What this case illustrates is they have no defense for their cruel treatment of animals–‘scientific’ or otherwise.

  7. I was really shocked by this too! I didn’t realize that it was done in public view until I read this post. All I can tell you is that if I were one of the kiddos who watched that I’d probably have gone vegan right then and there. Great post! Celeste 🙂

  8. That’s pretty awful. I can’t imagine doing this in front of kids. That sounds like absolutely horrible judgment to let kids see such a thing. I actually had a good experience seeing what it was like to be a dossent at a zoo, and I would have become one if I’d lived closer by. We got to see the animals behind the scenes. And we saw this wild jungle like environment, which the public sees, but at night, the animals have to spend the night in cages. They are all corralled back through tunnels, so people can keep an eye on their health and give them the care they might need. This experience actually made me feel closer to the animals and I had a good feeling about it. Being in the same room as an elephant while the dossent was cleaning him was really nice. Although i don’t honestly know anything more, since that was just 1 day, and it made me feel like the people really cared about the animals. I really hope that was true, and not just my imagination.

    • Thanks for reading and the comment. I am sure there are individual workers who really love the animals and try to do the best they can to take care of them. I think you have to pull back and look at the big picture here though, with the humans AND the animals. The superiors to the ones cleaning the cages and feeding the animals, etc. are doing this to make money, so they are going to make decisions that affect the bottom line, not the animal’s welfare. Which is why Marius was killed–and that elephant that you speak of would be no exception if it came to that–if they wanted to make room for a cuter baby elephant for example, they would kill that elephant you speak of. And of course for the animals, they are living regimented, caged lives very different from what they would choose to live in the wild. Their life spans are shorter, their emotional and physical healths are worse–and the whole things begins with an animal kidnapped in the wild. This is how ALL zoos operate, so the conclusion that you must reach is they do NOT really care about the animals; the animals are the products they exploit to make money.

      • Michael, I agree. Whenever something is for profit there is always abuse. Decisions are made based on profit instead of human beings or animals rights being considered. Our health care system is a good example! Hospitals are for profit and they make awful decisions for people’s lives. I watched my Dad die in one. I hate them. You bring up a good point. Instead of having the animals in cages, I would love to see them in their natural environment, at least try to simulate that as much as possible. I would hope that someday animal rights activitists would start something like an enclosed safari, instead of a zoo. A place where people could still see animals, but have them more free. And not make them go to Africa! or the circus to see an elephant. I can’t afford a trip to Africa! But my consciousness was changed due to this experience with the elephant. He changed me for the better and others too, I’m sure. And many children that have an opportunity to see animals without having to travel too far, might become future environmentalists and animals rights activists. The world needs that right now! We all need our consciousness raised to a higher level.

        • I agree with most of what you say, including the for-profit health care system we’re stuck with. There is an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee that I think you can visit… And beyond that I just don’t think it’s right to take any animal out of its natural habitat just so we can see them… though I do agree that proximity helps us appreciate them. I took a trip to volunteer helping elephants in Thailand last year… it’s more affordable than you think. A dollar goes really far in Thailand…

        • What is needed is for no animals to be made to do anything they do not want to do at all. Each individual animal is a sentient being that wants to be left alone in their natural habitat. It’s not our right to move them from those habitats, force them to breed, exploit them for our own ends and ultimately kill them.

          The same goes for chickens, cows, pigs, and all other animals on the planet. We have no right to force breed them and exploit them for food, clothing, research or entertainment. We have no need of those things.

  9. Judging by the way people have reacted to this killing, it’s obvious that they care about animals. However, most people ignore the fact that they sit down to a plate with the flesh and secretions of animals on it every day, usually more than once a day.

    Every one of those animals had an interest in it’s own survival and freedoms, just like Marius. Every one of them felt pain, pleasure, fear, happiness, and other emotions, just like Marius. And every one of them was treated much more horribly than Marius was and was killed in just as brutal a fashion, if not more brutal.

    We have no need for animal substances, either in our diet, or in our clothing, nor any other products. There are many ways to see animals without going to zoos, circuses or marine parks, which are all horrible places from the perspective of the animals.

    Not only is there no necessity for animal substances in our diet, but the human consumption of flesh, dairy and eggs is the main cause of chronic disease in developed countries. The domestication of animals has been linked to all the worst infectious disease as well, and we’re creating many new and horrible infectious diseases in factory farms right now.

    The production of animal substances for human consumption is also the cause of the majority of environmental destruction caused by humans as well. The exploitation of nonhuman animals is also the direct or indirect cause of all the human rights problems we face.

    For anyone reading this, if you care about animals at all, even a little, please consider my words carefully. Morally speaking, all animals, no matter what species they are of, deserve to not be intentionally exploited and harmed by humans. If it was wrong for a giraffe, then it’s wrong for a cow, a chicken, a pig, a fish, an insect, or any animal. If we believe that this is the case, it means that we have a moral responsibility to animals to stop exploiting them. This is what it means to go Vegan.

    If you think that animals matter morally, please view these links:

  10. Learned some details I didn’t know about Marius, thanks for the information, albeit, tragic and sickening!

    What I do know is that zoos are not good for animals and children. The adults who build these prison camps haven’t got a heart. Sadly, that means a myriad of people on this beautiful planet.

    ❤ carmen

    • Yeah. I don’t know if “heartless” is exactly the right word. Just perhaps “disconnected”. Some people just do not compute that animals are living, emotional beings if they are behind cages or shuttered in some out of the way slaughterhouses, though they can readily make this connection to the dogs or cats in their own houses. But for the people whose job is to actually take care of these animals to have this lack of empathy–it definitely quite terrible and tragic. Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂

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