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Copenhagen Zoo, Marius the Giraffe and Zoo Management

Copenhagen Zoo, Marius the Giraffe and Zoo Management
Zoo management in a nutshell

There has recently been a lot of commotion regarding Copenhagen Zoo's decision to destroy Marius the giraffe. A lot of people accused the Danish zoo of animal abuse and have said to never want to visit this zoo anymore.

Copenhagen is part of the EAZA, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, which is an organisation that helps it's members to exchange animals in favour of breeding programs, which are the main focus of any zoo. The EAZA also advices zoos and gives them specific guidelines (which are usually followed by the EAZA acreditted zoos) on maintaining their animals.

Zoos acreditted by the EAZA try to avoid inbreeding, they don't want animals related to each other to breed. This is very understandable as animals that are inbred are generally unhealthy. Marius, the young giraffe at Copenhagen, was closely related to the other animals in the breeding program, so it was in fact of no use to it. 

According to the EAZA, giraffes born in zoos have to be moved away from their family group. Female giraffes need to be moved to prevent inbreeding and bulls need to be removed to prevent the animals from fighting. 

Bull animals that are genetically very similar to other animals in the breeding program are relatively hard to relocate. In this case several zoos have offered to take this animal, but those zoos were no options. 

One of the zoos which offered Marius a home was Yorkshire, which is acreditted by the EAZA, but Yorkshire already houses a brother of the Danish giraffe, which means his genes are already represented in said collection. Besides, Marius had been on the surplus list for nearly a year (the SLWAP in England explained this in a Facebook post regarding what happened at Copenhagen). They had nearly a year to take him in, but only notified Copenhagen Zoo they wanted to have him when the decision to euthanise Marius was already made.

Another zoo which has offered Marius a place was Landgoed Hoenderdaell in the Netherlands. This zoo is not acreditted by the EAZA and apparentally offered Copenhagen money for the animal. One of the rules of the EAZA is that they can't sell their animals to other collections. Besides that Hoenderdaell is a relatively small park which  doesn't have an enclosure ready (their "savannah" practically is a muddy, fenced piece of land with some rheas, zebras and some goats). They were not ready to take the animal in. 

Anyway, so Copenhagen couldn't find a home for Marius, so they chose euthanasia. It may sound cruel to kill a healthy, relatively young animal, but it's part of zoo management and in this case it was necessary.

Copenhagen isn't the only zoo which destroys surplus. Many other zoos all around the world do this, however they often aren't as open about it and often do it with animals of which no-one would notice it. Most commonly hoofstock. I am from the Netherlands and can name at least 4 zoos here which practice this. One of them is the famous Rotterdam Zoo, which has decided to openly admit it on national television in support to Copenhagen.

After Marius was euthanised painlessly and afterwards the zoo decided to use this opportunity and dissect the animal in front of the public. There was a lot of critic about this, especially because there were children watching. I however think that this critic is unnecessary. If the kids really didn't want to see it they would have cried or told their parents. A normal parent would take his kid away from the dead animal and would continue their tour through the zoo. It was their own choice to watch the autopsy. The zoo offered the autopsy as an educational expierience, which is in my opinion a good thing. 

After Marius got dissected his remains got fed to the lions. The zoo also recieved a lot of critic regarding this. However this way Marius remains wouldn't be wasted, they could be used to be fed to the lions, who also sometimes eat giraffes in the wild. Aside from that carcass feeding has an improved behavioural effect on carnivores.

Personally I think the main problem is that the parents, whose genes were already both overrepresented in the EEP (the breeding program) were allowed to breed. If they would have prevented this, all this drama could have been prevented as well. However, contraception is in its infancy for giraffes. The drugs have various side-effects such as irreversibility. Using the contraception would have meant they could have lost vital animals in the EEP. So I think in the end, Copenhagen did what they had to do. They made the move which was best for the future of this species, which in the end is the most important thing.

I can understand it if anyone has his/her questions about this and I will answer them all if you comment.


Review - Duisburg Zoo

This is my first review on this blog. I hope there will follow more in the future, but let's start with this one.

Duisburg Zoo

Report and Review

August 9, 2o13. Today I visited the zoo in Duisburg, a relatively big zoo with a big collection of animals ranging from the only Amazon river dolphin outside South America to koalas. I entered the park around 1.30 PM, the entree fee was surprisingly low (which is because German zoos get more funds from the goverment than most other countries).

The first animals I saw at the zoo were the giraffes who shared an exhibit with some ground hornbills, kept in a pretty nice paddock with a spacious and nicely themed stable. There was also a cage with weavers in the stable. Next I walked towards the elephant paddock, which was a little small for my taste. The stables were again, just like the giraffe stables nicely themed.

Queensland Koala

After visiting those big African animals, I wanted to see the animal which was the main reason I wanted to visit Duisburg Zoo, the Amazon river dolphin. As I walked towards the Rio Negro tropical hall I walked past an enclosure for giant river otters. While the enclosure itself looked quite nice, the water was murky which made it impossible to view the otters underwater. After I was done watching the playful otters, I entered the Rio Negro hall, which was really nice. It was small but the theming was (once again) nice and the tank in which Baby, the Amazon river dolphin lived was spacious. There were also several animals free-ranging through the hall, under which toucans and tamarins.

Next up was the aquarium (connected to the Rio Negro), probably my least favourite part of the zoo. I didn't take the time to walk past  all of the (few) tanks because the water was kinda dirty (and so was the glass) and because the species inside were kinda boring. Next to the exit of the aquarium was an indoor enclosure for the giant otters (one of  two, the other one is off-show but visible on a webcam). It looked nice and it would have fit in well with the Rio Negro theme, where it would have looked way better than inside the aquarium.

After that I walked towards the spectacled bear enclosure, while passing nice spacious enclosures for giant tortoises and small-clawed otters. The bear enclosure only opened recently and it was one of the nicest exhibits for spectacled bears I had seen. It was very lush and green and the animals were viewable from at least 5 viewing points.

Going on I strolled past the clouded leopard enclosures, while the enclosures were nicely planted and had lots of logs and stuff for the animals to climb on it was very hard to actually spot the animals. As much as I like all the lush foliage, I would enjoy being able to spot the animals. I had to come back at least 6 times, what the regular zoo visitor doesn't do, to actually see the animals.

After walking past a paddock for wisents and black storks, the pheasantry was up next. Instead of the usual aviaries these were walkthrough aviaries, which was very pleasing. What I found less pleasing was the fact some birds were in the wrong aviaries (for example a turaco in the one for tragopans). Next to the pheasantry was a paddock for porcupines, guineafowls, marabou storks and vultures. While I enjoyed watching the odd mix I would have prefered seeing the animals in an aviary instead of the birds having their wings clipped. 

As I strolled further I passed a decent paddock housing red river hogs and watusi cattle, another one housing zebras and rhinos, some aviaries and an enclosure housing raccoons. The last one were nowhere to be found though.

Eastern Bongo

Next was a quite empty exhibit housing European wolverines, the wolverines were nowhere to be found which probably meant they were inside their indoor dens as their were almost no opportunities to hide inside the enclosure. I personally think it would have looked better with more foliage.

Walking further past a nice enclosure for a small group of wolves I reached the sea lion enclosure, which was pretty much a standard enclosure. A concrete pool with a rockwall behind. The next enclosure for seals was much worse though, debatable one of the worst exhibits in the zoo. The pool was concrete and very shallow, the enclosure itself was small and most of the space was land.

Strolling past an aviary housing lynxes (which I didn't see, even though the aviary was not that big), a reindeer paddock and a mandrill enclosure with a very ugly mural I reached the Australia house. Inside were the koalas, in a fairly decent enclosure, especially considering koalas almost don't move. In a glassfronted building connected to the building holding the koalas were a goodfellow's tree kangaroo, some echidnas and some other animals. An outdoor enclosure for the tree kangaroo would have been nice but the situation seemed okay. Next to the building is an outdoor yard for the koalas, which they share with wombats when outside, I saw no wombat in there whatsoever, even though I revisited the enclosure at least 5 times. I didn't see the other wombats, which share a much bigger enclosure with emus and wallabies either. 

Going on I passed the kori bustards, another species of bird which had their wings clipped, who shared an enclosure with kirk's dikdiks. Walking further I passed a decent enclosure for tapirs and anteaters on my way to the carnivore house. The carnivore house housed fishing cats in a fairly decent enclosure (especially considering the size of the species), Malayan binturongs, dwarf mongooses and African lions. Even though the lion outdoor enclosure was quite small, I think it was of a fairly nice size considering there were only two lions living in it.

Next to the carnivore house are some connected aviaries housing European wild cats, though the aviaries seemed quite old and outdated they were good enough for such a small species of cat. In front of the lion exhibit lies the entrance to the fossa exhibit, which consists of two glassfronted aviaries that can be connected. The aviaries were spacious, had plenty of climbing opportuntities and they allowed the animals to come close to the visitors (I have never been this close to those wonderful euplerids before). 

Also found on the island of Madagascar are the red ruffed lemurs, black-and-white ruffed lemurs and ringtailed lemurs that share a walkthrough island. Even though I don't exactly like the combination of species I must admit this was one of the best lemur enclosures I have ever seen. Visitors were given the ability to come very close to the lemurs, yet the lemurs had plenty of space to climb and plenty of vegetation to hide in. Duisburg Zoo houses both species of ruffed lemurs together even though they could crossbreed. I asked a zookeeper which was present in the enclosure about this and she told me that the groups of ruffed lemurs kind of rivalise and would therefore not breed, yet there was one hybrid ruffed lemur present in the red ruffed lemur group.

Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur

Now I had gone through the first part of the park, I crossed the highway over the bridge leading to the other part of the zoo. On the edges of the bridges there were lots of plants, hiding the highway away from view, which I really liked.

The first thing I visited in the second part of the park was the primate house, which also held pygmy hippos. The first thing I saw was a nicely planted gibbon island adjacent to a nice enclosure for pygmy hippos  If you walked a little further from the house's entrance you walked past the outdoor enclosures for orang utans, king colobuses, white cheeked gibbons and lion-tailed macaques. These outdoor enclosures were way too small in my opinion, but only just several minutes later I discovered they should be happy with this space, considering the geladas, debrazza's monkeys, white-handed gibbons, siamangs, diana monkeys and a hand full of South-American monkeys had no outdoor access. They were deemed to live their lives in small concrete indoor enclosures. The animal which probably had most space in the primate house was the sloth, which could climb over the visitors using ropes. Going outside the primate house I come across an aviary holding various birds and another outdoor enclosure for another group of king colobuses. Walking a little further you'll discover the decent sized outdoor gorilla enclosure, which is probably the nicest enclosure which is a part of the primate house.

As I noticed it was almost 4 PM I walked towards the Dolphinarium, as I was curious to see Duisburg's dolphin show. While walking towards it I came across several enclosures including ones for greater kudus, bongos, red pandas, cranes and African wild dogs. I heard one of their wild dogs recently escaped and I could see why. The dry moat was not that wide and I am kinda sure that if the dog would feel like it, she would be able to jump over the moat again. The wild dog enclosure also featured a cableway used to hang meat on during feeding presentation, I thought this was quite a nice and enriching way of giving the wild dogs their food.

When nearing the dolphinarium, I walked past a decent sized enclosure for Siberian tigers. Once in the stadium I felt like the pool was way too small for the 9 bottlenose dolphins Duisburg houses. After watching the dolphins for a while, the show started. While the tricks they did were very basic, I enjoyed the fact there was no loud music playing in the background and the fact the trainer educated the public about bottlenose dolphins. After a while I got bored and left the show.

Indochinese Clouded Leopard

Walking further I came across an enclosure for muntjacs, in which I suprisingly also found two species that don't belong there, a stray cat and a brown rat. I can't really blame the zoo for the presence of rats and cats though as the zoo is built near a big city.


What I probably liked most in Duisburg was how lush it was, even though it was really close to a big city. All the enclosures were nicely planted and green. Another thing I loved was the fact you were able to come close to most of the animals. Also lots of the enclosures had small dry moats instead of fencing, making photography a lot easier.

My biggest point of critique is probably the primate house, while it houses a big and very interesting collection of primates the enclosures are way too small. I hope more species will recieve outdoor enclosures in the future, as currently more than half of the species kept in are housed indoors.

Overall Duisburg was really worth the visit, the collection was outstanding and the atmosphere in the park was great. Therefore I would really recommend you to visit it if you ever are near it.

Note: All pics in this review were taken by me, do not republish, edit or use them without my written permission.


Captive freaks

Captive Freaks

Why they have no place in conservation

This time I will discuss animals or "freaks" that were created by human intervention. In this entry I will discuss two prime examples of this; white tigers and ligers.

White Tigers

Tigers have always been popular animals in zoos, the big majestic striped cats always draw lots of attention from both young and old visitors. There are also some zoos that keep white tigers. White tigers are often even more popular than the "regular" tigers.

June 2011, the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) bans the breeding of white tigers, white lions and king cheetahs in AZA-accredited collections.
Now why would the AZA ban the breeding of white tigers, while they are very popular?

They were banned because they are mutants, they are freaks. They are not albino like some might say, no, white tigers are leucistic. White tigers do occur in the wild, but only VERY rarely. In the wild, white tigers would most likely not survive due to their colour, their prey would see them coming from miles.

As far as we know there are no white tigers in the wild today, however there are hundreds, maybe even over thousand of them in captivity. The captive population has been created by humans.

Now you may wonder, how could man create white tigers? The answer is simple; inbreeding. Man has continuously been crossing father with daughter and brother with sister to create more and more white tigers. Unfortunately the white coat isn't the only effect inbreeding has on the tigers, no there are effects that are way worse. The inbred animals are generally very unhealthy and have to deal with lots of health issues. The same gene that causes the white coat causes the optic nerve to be wired to the wrong side of the brain, which makes all white tigers cross-eyed. Other common health issues with white tigers include club feet, cleft palates, spinal deformities and defective organs.

Kenny, a white tiger with deformities

Zoos and breeders don't want animals with deformities such as Kenny's. Animals like him are often killed or discarded. Often orange tigers are born during white breeding as well, only a part of the nest is white. The breeders only want the white ones though and the orange ones are often sold at the illegal pet market or killed.

Another lie zoos tell you is that white tigers would be Bengal tigers. This is not true, at first all white tigers indeed were Bengal tigers, but later they were crossed with Amur tigers to increase their size. Nowadays all captive white tigers are hybrids between the Amur and the Bengal sub-species.

But aside from the health issues they have another negative side, they take up space in zoos which could be used for pure sub-species of tigers (or another kind of animal) which actually are endangered in the wild. The aim of breeding programs is to create a captive population that can be released in the wild, this is possible with pure sub-species of tigers but the white tigers have too many genetical defects to be released in the wild, besides that they probably wouldn't be able to survive due to their white coat. 


Ligers are the result of breeding a male liger to a tigress. Lions and tigers do not co-exist in the wild, thus this does not happen in the wild. Ligers are freaks bred in captivity, which are bred because ignorant people pay to see them. Ligers impress those people by their size (most ligers are bigger than both parents).
Ligers suffer from many birth defects, which most of the animals to die young. Also because ligers are bigger than the mother, the mother is in great risk carrying the young, C-section deliveries are often required.
Like white tigers, ligers also take up space in zoos that could be use for non-hybrid endangered species, such as pure tiger sub-species.

What can you do?

There are several things you can do to stop the breeding of white tigers and ligers; if the public doesn't pay to see the animals, the breeders will stop breeding them, so avoid visiting zoos and circuses breeding white tigers and/or ligers.
Also when someone talks about white tigers or ligers and he/she says that they love them, link this person to my blog or to another article on the internet regarding the issue I mentioned above.

More information

I recommend you to watch the following videos, they basically summary some of the information I posted and also add some other problems regarding the "freaks".

Videos belong to AnimalMedia

For even more information you can also read this page:

Now if you have any questions or comments regarding the subject, feel free to comment. I will try to answer all of them.


Interview with an intern zookeeper

Interview with an intern zookeeper
For this update I will interview Gerben. Gerben is a friend of mine, who is 17 years old. He is following an Animal Management study in the Netherlands and he is currently working as an intern zookeeper at Zooparc Overloon.

What kind of animals do you work with?
Giant Anteaters, Banded Mongoose, Pygmy Goats , Chickens, Kookaburras, Saddle-Back Tamarins, Goeldi's Marmosets, Black-and-White Ruffed Lemurs, Ringtailed Lemurs, Alaotran Gentle Lemurs, Crowned Lemurs, Meerkats, Crab-Eating Raccoons, a Von der Decken's Hornbill and Blue-and-Yellow Macaws belong to my daily routine.

What kind of jobs do you do?
I feed the animals, prepare the food for the animals, clean their enclosures and I do feeding presentations.

What do you like most about the job?
I really like to see how the animals appreciate it when you feed them.

What do you dislike about the job?
The fact cleaning the enclosures costs a lot of time and can be quite exhausting (sometimes even painful).

Which animal is your favourite to work with and why?
The Giant Anteaters. Even though I am not allowed to work alone with them (anteaters can be very dangerous), they are amazing animals to observe. I can only distinguish them by watching their behaviour.

Is the job of a zookeeper like you expected it would be? 
Yeah, actually it was. There were no real surprises.

What is your opinion about Zooparc Overloon?
Overloon has done very well. They manage very well to keep the park tidy and neat. They also consider animal welfare as a paramount importance.

I want to thank Gerben for letting me interview him. 


The reasons zoos are needed

The first subject I want to discuss here is:
The reason zoos are needed
The first zoos were nothing like the zoos nowadays. In those so called menageries the animals were living in small cages without any form of enrichment. The animals were mostly kept by the rich and powerful as a way to show off. Nowadays zoos have different purposes... 

First of all zoos educate people about animals. Visiting your local zoo a perfect way to see all kinds of exotic animals from all over the world without even leaving the country. Zoos try to show the animals in exhibits that mimic their natural habitat and they try to make the animals behave as natural as possible by offering various kinds of enrichment. The zoo visitors can learn more about the animal by reading the educational signs which are present in almost every modern zoo. If said sign doesn't answer the question of the visitor there is almost always a zookeeper near to do so.

Second zoos help to save animals from extinction. This is done through various ways, like educating visitors so they know what they can do to save a species. The more direct way is breeding endangered species. Almost all zoos on the world work together in breeding programs, these programs are designed to maintain the captive population and to reintroduce a part of the animals in the wild. Thanks to the international breeding programs zoos can exchange species and individuals. Some animals would have been extinct if zoos didn't help them, for example the scimitair horned oryx and the Przewalski's horse. 

Lastly some zoos also rescue animals that were injured or sick. Various zoos rescue and sometimes even rehabilitate animals that were found sick or injured in the wild. These animals get food, shelter and health care to make sure they will recover. Sometimes these animals are able to be released in the wild, other times they stay at the zoo, where they are sometimes even able to help maintain the captive populations. Examples of rescue animals are stranded dolphins and turtles.