Robin Abcarian
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Copenhagen Zoo kills again: First Marius the giraffe, now four lions

Biology

The Danish zoo that drew so much criticism for killing a healthy young giraffe named Marius and inviting schoolchildren to watch as he was dismembered and fed to lions is at it again.

This time, the zoo announced that it euthanized four healthy lions Monday to make way for a young male lion.

It did not say what it did with their carcasses, nor whether they were among those who ate Marius.

Of course it’s tempting for any older person to anthropomorphize the situation (four old guys equals one young guy), but it turns out that only two of the lions were older -- 16 and 14 years old -- and one of them was a female. The other two were 18-month-old male cubs.

Having checked its humanity at the door in February when it so publicly killed and disposed of Marius, the zoo has a perfectly cold-eyed scientific rationale for the slaughter:

“The change in the lion pride had to happen now because Copenhagen Zoo currently has two young females from the 2012 litter and it is ideal to keep these as part of the new pride and then find a suitable male,” officials said in a statement on the zoo's website. “If the Zoo had not made the change in the pride now then we would have risked that the old male would mate with these two females -- his own offspring -- and thereby give rise to inbreeding.

“Furthermore, we couldn’t risk that the male lion mated with the old female as she was too old to be mated with again due to the fact that she would have difficulties with birth and parental care of another litter.”

(As an old female myself, I’m straining against the temptation to apply any evolutionary biology comparisons to human beings here.)

There were other exigencies outlined by the zoo in its explanation for why four perfectly healthy creatures had to be put down instead of moved.

The older male and older female would have killed the new male lion, officials said. And the new male lion would have killed the two sexually immature younger males.

Also, they said, had the new male not arrived quickly, the remaining females of the pride might have ganged up on him and killed him.

But none of that explains why the animals could not have gone off to some preserve and lived out their lives in peace.

Zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro told CNN that the zoo tried to place them, “but unfortunately, there wasn’t any interest.”

How hard did they try?

You may recall that even when there was a great deal of interest in saving the life of Marius, the zoo refused to let him go, citing regulations of its governing organization, the European Assn. of Zoos and Aquaria. Yet two zoos that offered to take Marius, the Krakow Zoo and the Yorkshire Wildlife Park, are members of the association.

You could argue, correctly, that captive animals enjoy longer life spans than those in the wild, and in that sense a zoo animal’s life is often extended, perhaps even pleasurably, as it no longer has to deal with predators. (Well, non-human predators.)

But it is also true that these life-and-death decisions have nothing to do with an individual animal’s welfare, and in fact only serve the zoo’s needs and its higher goals of maintaining genetic diversity.

Maybe this is naive, but it seems to me that we humans owe a debt to these magnificent creatures. They entertain us, educate us and enlighten us. They deserve more than regular feedings and an untimely death.

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Twitter: @robinabcarian

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

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