By NALINEE SEELAL Monday, February 10 2014
THE COUNTRY’S President Anthony Carmona was a sad and unhappy man yesterday following news that a healthy two-year-old giraffe named “Marius” was killed and fed to the lions at the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark.
The President’s distress came after he made a valiant but futile attempt to save the giraffe’s life by calling on Zoological Society of TT (ZSTT) president Gupte Lutchmedial asking if the Society could contact the Copenhagen Zoo and indicate its willingness to purchase Marius.
Saying that it needed to prevent inbreeding, officials at the Copenhagen Zoo killed “Marius” yesterday and fed his remains to lions as horrified visitors watched, ignoring a worldwide petition signed by thousands and offers from other zoos in England, Holland and Trinidad and Tobago and a private individual, to save the animal.
Marius, a healthy male, was put down yesterday using a bolt pistol, said zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro. Visitors, including children, were invited to watch while the giraffe was then skinned and fed to the lions.
Marius’ plight triggered a wave of online protests and renewed debate about the conditions of zoo animals. Before the giraffe was killed, an online petition to save it had received more than 20,000 signatures.
Newsday was told after reading online stories on Saturday morning of Marius’ impending death, a concerned President Carmona despatched Head of the President’s Household Lt Cmdr Don Polo to meet with Society president Lutchmedial to discuss the matter. President Carmona, Newsday was told, even contacted one of the United Nations representatives stationed in this country, seeking to have pressure put on the Copenhagen Zoo to delay Marius’ death while the ZSTT sought to intervene. Lutchmedial acted immediately, sending an official ZSTT email to the Copenhagen Zoo on Saturday indicating it would purchase Marius immediately. ZSTT sources told Newsday that since there are already two juvenile male giraffes at the Emperor Valley Zoo, Lutchmedial had identified an enclosed piece of land near the manatee conservation site in Manzanilla, where Marius would have been housed once the sale was agreed to by the Copenhagen Zoo.
It is not known if the ZSTT email was received by Copenhagen Zoo officials or not. President Carmona and the ZSTT’s efforts were all in vain. Stenbaek Bro, in an article in the London Daily Mail’s online edition, said the zoo which now has seven giraffes left, followed the recommendation of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) to put down Marius because there already were a lot of giraffes with similar genes in the organisation’s breeding programme.
The Amsterdam-based EAZA has 347 members, including many large zoos in European capitals, and works to conserve global biodiversity and achieve the highest standards of care and breeding for animals.
Stenbaek Bro said EAZA membership isn’t mandatory, but most responsible zoos are members of the organisation. He said his zoo had turned down offers from other ones to take Marius and an offer from a private individual who wanted to buy the giraffe for 500,000 euros ($680,000).
Stenbaek Bro said a significant part of EAZA membership is that the zoos don’t own the animals themselves, but govern them, and therefore can’t sell them to anyone outside the organisation that doesn’t follow the same set of rules.
He also said it is important for the breeding programmes to work.
Bengt Holst, Copenhagen Zoo’s scientific director, said it turned down an offer from Yorkshire Wildlife Park in Britain, which is a member of EAZA, because Marius’ older brother lives there and the park’s space could be better used by a “genetically more valuable giraffe.”
Yorkshire Wildlife Park said it called the zoo on Saturday with a last-minute offer to house Marius in a new giraffe house with room for an extra male. It said it was saddened by the killing of Marius, but “without knowing the full details it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
Copenhagen Zoo also turned down an offer from a zoo in northern Sweden, because it was not an EAZA member and didn’t want to comply with the same high standards, Holst said.
Copenhagen Zoo doesn’t give giraffes contraceptives or castrate them because that could have unwanted side effects on their internal organs, and the zoo regards parental care as important, said Holst.
Information Officer at the Office of the President Theron Boodan yesterday confirmed to Newsday that President Carmona had made an effort via the ZSTT, to save Marius’ life. A source at President’s House said that Carmona had a special affinity toward giraffes as he interacted with these magnificent animals when he visited Tanzania in Africa and while at the Hague in the Netherlands,” a source close to the President told Newsday.
Contacted for comment yesterday, Lutchmedial said he was heartened to see that TT’s Head of State was so concerned about the life of an animal.
“It is heartening to know that the President would take time off from his busy schedule to try and save an animal’s life. This is the kind of humanity and concern I hope others would seek to emulate,” Lutchmedial said.
Boodan commended the ZSTT for its swift response to President Carmona’s request to make an attempt and save Marius’ life by purchasing him.
On December 4, the Emperor Valley Zoo welcomed two juvenile giraffes later named Melman and Mandela, which are now among the star attractions at the Port-of-Spain zoo which later this year is expecting the arrival of a Bengal tiger.