(CNN) -- Staff at a Danish zoo where a healthy giraffe was euthanized have received death threats as debate rages online over the killing, which took place despite a petition signed by thousands of animal lovers.
Several staff members were targeted after the animal, named Marius, was put down, Copenhagen Zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbæk Bro told CNN on Monday. He added that "Bengt Holst, Director of Research and Conservation at Copenhagen Zoo received threats via telephone and emails."
The zoo said it euthanized Marius on Sunday because of a duty to avoid inbreeding. After an autopsy the giraffe was dismembered in front of an audience that included children, and fed to the zoo's lions.
"Our giraffes are part of an international breeding program, which has a purpose of ensuring a sound and healthy population of giraffes," Holst told CNN on Sunday. "It can only be done by matching the genetic composition of the various animals with the available space. ... When giraffes breed as well as they do now, then you will inevitably run into so-called surplus problems now and then."
The killing sparked outrage, with most people commenting on the zoo's Facebook page expressing their revulsion. "I find the killing of innocent baby giraffe Absolutely Barbaric. And to do it in front of children just desensitizes them to brutal killing of animals. SHAME ON YOU!" Hope Welch posted on Monday.
Another poster, Clive Longbottom, wrote: "PR disaster. Badly handled before and after the event with the giraffe. This is not what zoos are for: you had other options (re-farming to other facilities; vasectomisation/castration). Instead, you took what seems to be a purely commercial approach. Not good."
However some users pointed out the hypocrisy of those who criticized the zoo without any understanding of the reasons behind the euthanasia, or who ate meat without knowing its true origin. "The level of crass hypocrisy demonstrated by the vast majority of comments on this thread is absolutely repugnant. Shame on you, armchair warrior, shame on you," wrote Matthew Ogden.
Another user claimed such killings were commonplace: "Im pretty sure the slaughtering of the giraf in Copenhagen Zoo is a very normal procedure in any Zoo around the world. What's the alternative ?. Atleast the Zoo's offers the animals a good life while they live. The animals i private "care" is far worse off," commented Michael Berthelson.
Fed to the lions
Marius was killed by a bolt gun, not a lethal injection, which would contaminate the meat, Holst said.
The carcass was used partly for research and partly to feed carnivores at the zoo -- lions, tigers, and leopards. CNN anchor Jonathan Mann asked Holst if it would have been possible to sterilize Marius or move him to another zoo to avoid killing him.
"If we just sterilize him, he will take up space for more genetically valuable giraffes," Holst answered.
Did the children watching cry? Mann asked.
Just the opposite, Holst said. The crowd was "very enthusiastic" and "the kids asked good questions."
"In this case we would never throw away 200 kilograms of meat," Holst said.
He said the giraffe was 2 years old, and while he was not officially named, his keepers had called him Marius to identify him.
More than 27,000 people had signed a "Save Marius" petition, appealing for a last-minute change of heart. "The zoo has raised him so it is their responsibility to find him a home," author Maria Evans wrote on the petition site.
Copenhagen Zoo said that due to a massive debate on its Facebook page, it had published a Q&A about the decision on its website.
"It is not possible to transfer the giraffe to another zoo as it will cause inbreeding," it said.
Several zoos volunteered to take Marius in. The UK's Yorkshire Wildlife Park, which said it has the capacity for an extra male, was among several places which put in offers to take him.
However, Lesley Dickie, Executive Director of European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), said this was not a viable option. "As for alternative solutions, we cannot in good conscience recommend the transfer of animals under our protection to zoos which are not our members and therefore not subject to our strict standards of animal husbandry and welfare; transfer within our network does not represent a solution to the unsuitability of the individual animal for breeding.
"Contraception is difficult and in its infancy for female giraffes, and can be irreversible. Castration of a male animal can have also undesirable side effects, and a place that could otherwise be reserved for an animal that can contribute to its species' future is lost. Release into the wild of this single individual would almost certainly result in early death for the animal, after a long and stressful journey of thousands of kilometers."
"EAZA members do not euthanize animals lightly, and we are saddened by the death of any animal in our care. Nonetheless, we strongly support Copenhagen Zoo, which has an exemplary record of animal welfare, education, research and conservation."
READ: Danish zoo kills healthy giraffe, feeds body to lions
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