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Euthanasia in zoos draws fire

Local staff say method used only if animal is suffering

The killing of a healthy giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo in Europe last week not only became fodder for headlines throughout the media, it also sparked the anger of animal lovers worldwide.

Now, a different European zoo is considering killing a giraffe for similar reasons. It’s a healthy male, but the Jyllands Park Zoo in western Denmark already has one of those and is about to acquire a female.

While the attitude at some zoos in Europe is to euthanize normally healthy animals if they don’t quite fit the zoo’s desired gene pool, that is not the case at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, according to officials there.

Yes, the local zoo has had to euthanize animals, but it does so to the ones suffering.

“It’s typically a situation a pet owner would experience with a pet at their home,” said Cheryl Piropato, the zoo’s education and communications director.

“The decision is thought out very carefully when thinking about the options,” she continued.

In the aftermath of the death of Marius at the Copenhagen Zoo – the giraffe was butchered in front of a crowd that included children and fed to lions – The Associated Press asked several zoo officials in Europe and the United States about their euthanasia practices.

Many were hesitant to speak about them, according to the report.

At least one expert estimated that the 347 members of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria kill about 1,700 animals a year.

The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo did not release how many animals it’s had to kill or give a rough estimate about how many a year may be euthanized.

The reasons for euthanasia, though, include if the animal is in uncontrollable suffering or has an untreatable life-threatening injury or disease.

“The zookeepers are emotionally invested in these animals, so it’s not a decision that’s arrived at lightly,” Piropato said.

Since some animals live longer in a zoo than in the wild, these animals sometimes develop geriatric or degenerative conditions they otherwise wouldn’t suffer from, Piropato said.

“Basically, when we acquire an animal, we’re making the commitment to care for it until the end of its life,” she said.

Professional standards from the American Veterinary Medical Association are used when resorting to euthanasia, and there are trained veterinarians on the zoo’s staff.

Still, each animal is different.

“There’s no blanket policy in place,” Piropato said about euthanasia guidelines at the zoo. “It’s on a case-by-case basis. There’s no one answer that fits all.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story