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Swedish Zoo "Zoothanizes" Nine Healthy, "Useless" Lion Cubs

An email asking, "Do zoos really kill healthy animals?" wasn't at all surprising

Outrage Ensues As Zoo In Sweden Admits To Killing Nine Healthy Lion Cubs

Many zoos routinely kill healthy individuals who they refer to as "surplus" animals because they're no longer useful to them because they can't be used as breeding machines to make more individuals who will then spend the rest of their lives in cages or because they're taking up space that's needed for other animals of the same or other species. As morally reprehensible as the practice of killing useless animals seems, it's a reality and all part of business as usual for many zoos. In a BBC News essay by Hannah Barnes called "How many healthy animals do zoos put down?" we learn:

EAZA [European Association of Zoos and Aquaria] does not publish these records or advertise the number of healthy animals that have been culled, but executive director Dr Lesley Dickie estimates that somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 animals are 'management-euthanised' in European zoos in any given year. (my emphasis)

Three thousand to five thousand animals isn't a small number at all. Indeed, I was shocked when I learned this fact and that this large number of animals was considered to be disposable at the whim of zoo administrators.

"Do zoos really kill healthy animals?"

An early morning email asking, "Do zoos really kill healthy animals?" alerted me to yet another case of a zoo killing healthy animals, in this instance nine healthy lion cubs. In an essay by Lauren Lewis titled "Outrage Ensues As Zoo In Sweden Admits To Killing Nine Healthy Lion Cubs" we learn, "A zoo in Sweden has euthanized nine healthy lion cubs since 2012 because it reportedly could not afford to keep them." People who didn't know that zoos do these sorts of sickening things were incensed.

 Lion cubs in Kenya; Irina Anastasiu, pexels, free download
Source: Lion cubs in Kenya; Irina Anastasiu, pexels, free download

The zoo that's been guilty of this slaughter is called Boras Djurpark. Bo Kjellson, the CEO of the zoo, is quoted as saying that he "resorts to the controversial practice if the animals cannot be moved to other zoos or if they are rejected by their group.” Mr. Kjellson also notes, “It’s no secret in any way and we do not try to hide that we’re working this way ... So, it’s, unfortunately, a natural path for groups of lions.” Natural? I'll let you ponder this inane use of the word "natural."

Let's be clear, the animals are not being euthanized, but rather "zoothanized"

If a healthy animal has been put down, the key phrase is "Death by: Euthanasia (cull)"

Ms. Lewis begins her essay, "A zoo in Sweden has euthanized nine healthy lion cubs since 2012 because it reportedly could not afford to keep them." However, let's be clear, the animals were not euthanized, but rather they were "zoothanized."

Euthanasia is mercy killing that is used when an individual is interminably ill or suffering from interminable pain. The lion cubs who were killed were neither interminably ill nor suffering from interminable pain. Neither were other animals who have been killed in zoos -- they were killed because they weren't useful any longer to a zoo's breeding program or other goals, usually dictated by monetary profit. For more discussion of this point please see "'Zoothanasia' Is Not Euthanasia: Words Matter," "Killing Healthy Animals in Zoos: "Zoothanasia" is a Reality," "It's Still Not Happening at the Zoo: Sharp Divisions Remain," "Zoos Shall Not Kill Healthy Animals: A Moral Imperative," and The Animals' Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age.

Marius, the "poster child" for zoothanasia. Let's also consider Marius, the young giraffe who became the "poster child" (some might say the "poster corpse") for zoothanasia, when he was killed in 2014 at the Copenhagen zoo. His unnecessary death brought global attention to the heinous practice of zoothanasia. People who never previously had gotten involved in any sort of animal activism were outraged, and many voiced their opinions.

Nonetheless, outrage within the zoo community and among others did not stop Simon Tonge, the Executive Director of the UK's Whitley Conservation Trust, from claiming that Bengt Holst, the Copenhagen zoo's scientific director who wrote off killing Marius as business as usual, is a hero. A few weeks later, four lions were also zoothanized at the same zoo. At the meeting at which Mr. Tonge made this statement, I wasn't the only person who was floored, as I discovered at a break that afternoon. I guess the meaning of the word "hero," often used to refer to people having noble qualities or to those who have accomplished significant achievements, has taken a new turn. Calling Mr. Holst a "hero" is a marked perversion of the word.

"Zoothanasia" refers to what many zoos do: they kill healthy so-called "surplus" animals as if they're disposable and useless objects. They do this because the innocent and defenseless individuals are old or are genetically dead and wouldn't make useful contributions to an on-going gene pool (although some could be used for breeding), or they do this "in the name of conservation." Many try to sanitize the slaughter by using the word "euthanized" or the phrase "management-euthanized," but more and more people realize that they're just trying to mislead an uninformed audience, most of whom are shocked when they learn about zoothanasia. Yes, zoos do kill healthy animals.

Concerning the practice of zoothanasia, I also had the opportunity to interview Jenny Gray, CEO of Zoos Victoria (Australia), about her book titled Zoo Ethics: The Challenges of Compassionate Conservation. Our interview was published in a piece called "Zoo Ethics and the Challenges of Compassionate Conservation."

I asked Ms. Gray if she would have killed Marius, honestly expecting that this was a clear case of wrongdoing and that she simply would say "no." Instead, she skirted around the issue and answered:

"I agree that there is a difference between a death that is in the interest of the individual (euthanasia) and killing which terminates a healthy life. I challenge readers to think about the issues in the wicked questions section [of her book], including the death of Marius, and develop their own arguments. I have deliberately not given simple answers to what are complex issues. Many arguments can be mounted. I would hope that students of ethics can refine not only their personal view but also the plausible arguments to the contrary."

I honestly was very surprised. While Ms. Gray and I might respectfully disagree about various aspects of zoo ethics, I thought that killing a young healthy giraffe who was considered to be genetically dead would be a practice she would not support.

Zoothanasia has got to stop; Cruelty can't stand the spotlight

Zoothanasia has got to stop, and one way to do it is to call widespread attention to what some zoos call "business as usual" and have people protest loudly. As the late Gretchen Wyler has aptly noted, "Cruelty can't stand the spotlight."

World Zoothanasia Day is February 9

I've dubbed February 9 as World Zoothanasia Day (please also see), and I hope that people will make their views known before, on, and after that day. (For more discussion please see "In Honor Of Packy, The Elephant Unnecessarily Put Down By The Oregon Zoo, World Zoothanasia Day Has Been Declared.")

Please stay tuned for more discussion of zoothanasia and let's hope that it rapidly disappears as the standard operating procedure as more and more people take a strong stand against it. Putting a stop to zoothanasia is long overdue.