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Thousands of zoo animals killed in Europe yearly

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The carcass of Marius, a male giraffe, is eaten by lions after he was put down in Copenhagen Zoo on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014. Copenhagen Zoo turned down offers from other zoos and 500,000 euros ($680,000) from a private individual to save the life of a healthy giraffe before killing and slaughtering it Sunday to follow inbreeding recommendations made by a European association. The 2-year-old male giraffe, named Marius, was put down using a bolt pistol and its meat will be fed to carnivores at the zoo, spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro said. Visitors, including children, were invited to watch while the giraffe was dissected. (AP Photo/POLFOTO, Rasmus Flindt Pedersen) DENMARK OUT

The carcass of Marius, a male giraffe, is eaten by lions after he was put down in Copenhagen Zoo on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014. Copenhagen Zoo turned down offers from other zoos and 500,000 euros ($680,000) from a private individual to save the life of a healthy giraffe before killing and slaughtering it Sunday to follow inbreeding recommendations made by a European association. The 2-year-old male giraffe, named Marius, was put down using a bolt pistol and its meat will be fed to carnivores at the zoo, spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro said. Visitors, including children, were invited to watch while the giraffe was dissected. (AP Photo/POLFOTO, Rasmus Flindt Pedersen) DENMARK OUT

Marius, a male giraffe, lies dead before being dissected, after he was put down at Copenhagen Zoo on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014. Copenhagen Zoo turned down offers from other zoos and 500,000 euros ($680,000) from a private individual to save the life of a healthy giraffe before killing and slaughtering it Sunday to follow inbreeding recommendations made by a European association. The 2-year-old male giraffe, named Marius, was put down using a bolt pistol and its meat will be fed to carnivores at the zoo, spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro said. Visitors, including children, were invited to watch while the giraffe was dissected. (AP Photo/POLFOTO, Peter Hove Olesen) DENMARK OUT

People protest outside Copenhagen Zoo where Marius a male giraffe, was put down on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014. Copenhagen Zoo turned down offers from other zoos and 500,000 euros ($680,000) from a private individual to save the life of a healthy giraffe before killing and slaughtering it Sunday to follow inbreeding recommendations made by a European association. The 2-year-old male giraffe, named Marius, was put down using a bolt pistol and its meat will be fed to carnivores at the zoo, spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro said. Visitors, including children, were invited to watch while the giraffe was dissected. (AP Photo/POLFOTO, Rasmus Flindt Pedersen) DENMARK OUT

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STOCKHOLM (AP) — People around the world were stunned when Copenhagen Zoo killed a healthy 2-year-old giraffe named Marius, butchered its carcass in front of a crowd that included children and then fed it to lions. But Marius’ fate isn’t unique — thousands of animals are euthanized in European zoos each year for a variety of reasons. Zoo managers say their job is to preserve species, not individual animals. In the U.S., zoos try to avoid killing animals by using contraceptives to make sure they don’t have more offspring than they can house, but that method has also been criticized for disrupting animals’ natural behavior.

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HOW OFTEN ARE LARGE MAMMALS KILLED IN ZOOS?

U.S. and European zoological organizations refuse to release figures for the total number of animals killed. But David Williams Mitchell, spokesman of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, or EAZA, estimates an average zoo in its 347-member organization annually kills about five large mammals, which adds up to 1,735.

The number doesn’t include zoos and animal parks that don’t belong to the association. Animal rights groups suggest numbers are much higher. The Associated Press contacted 10 zoos in Europe — two refused to comment, four said they never kill any animals unless severely ill and four said they kill between one and 30 animals every year. Two zoos in the U.S. said they only ever kill animals for “quality of life reasons.”

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WHY ARE ANIMALS KILLED?

Zoos euthanize animals because of poor health, old age, lack of space or conservation management reasons. EAZA policy for zoos in Europe suggests euthanasia may be used as a last resort to achieve a balanced population within breeding programs — Marius was killed to prevent inbreeding. But Williams Mitchell insists only “a fraction of 1 percent” of the killings are for such reasons. The idea is to maintain a group of genetically healthy animals in zoos that can be used to reintroduce the species into the wild should it become extinct.

Mike McClure, general curator at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, says his zoo’s policies theoretically allow for killing animals for breeding purposes or lack of housing, but it’s not something his zoo has done. Generally, he says, animals are only killed due to quality of life issues such as old-age or ill-health.

In Asia, the parent company for the Singapore Zoo said in a statement that “euthanasia of animals is necessary to maintain the health and welfare of the herd, as overcrowding could lead to injuries, stress, and disease outbreak. “

“All animals in zoos die at some point and maybe zoos forgot to tell people,” said Jens Sigsgaard, zoological director at Aalborg Zoo in Denmark, which, like Copenhagen Zoo, performs open dissections of animals for educational purposes. “They come year after year. They probably think it’s the same animals that were there when they came as kids.”

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WHAT DO ZOOS DO TO AVOID KILLING ANIMALS?

When animals reproduce, most zoos first try to find another one in their network they can send the offspring to. Earlier this week, a German zoo said it would send a monkey to the Czech Republic because he’s produced so many offspring that he would soon start having children with his own relatives.

Zoos generally avoid selling the animals on the open market, fearing they will

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