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Managing the animal collection

Running a zoo implies a series of zoological and ethical considerations. Here the Zoo lists some of the necessary decisions and the reasons behind them.

In the Zoo there is a wide variety of animals from butterflies to elephants. The animals thrive and we focus on providing the animals with the opportunity to exercise maximum natural behavior. Very few people have thought about what lies behind an animal collection: how do we acquire it and how is it maintained?

Almost all animals in the Zoo are born in captivity. Only in very few instances do the animals come directly from the wild and only as part of an international breeding programme like in 1998 when the Zoo captured four young musk oxen in Greenland for the European breeding programme.

The Zoo needs to keep its animal collection healthy and to keep renewing it in order to have healthy animals in the future as well. That we do by making the animals breed and by matching the breeding couples as well as possible.

 

Who is to be allowed to breed?

In a breeding couple, the male and the female must be unrelated. If related animals breed it leads to inbreed and weak offspring. Animals that form part of international breeding programmes are matched by a species co-ordinator that on the basis of thorough knowledge about the descent of the animals find those that make the best match. The species co-ordinator is to see to it that the best possible combination prevails throughout the total population to keep it healthy and able to survive far into the future.

In spite of all preparations it happens that animals that do not fit into the “system” are born – so-called surplus animals. It may be because their genes are already well represented within the population, that they are not to breed or because there is insufficient space available in the zoos that participate in the breeding programme. In such instances it may be necessary to put down individual animals to prevent them from taking up space from genetically more valuable individuals or to avoid that the animals are squeezed into too limited space resulting in behavioural problems.

Can you prevent the animals from breeding?

Why don’t we prevent some of the animals from breeding in order to avoid a surplus? This is possible by keeping males and females separated, by administering contraception or by sterilizing the animals. In the Zoo we don’t think that is a good solution. Preventing the animals from breeding deprives them of a major part of their natural behavior namely the entire aspect of parenting on which the animals spend all their time for two or more years. Their welfare is reduced significantly in order to avoid having to put down offspring.

Furthermore, chemical contraception has numerous side effects and may end up in becoming a permanent sterilization. Surveys show that many species suffer serious damage to liver and kidneys as a consequence of chemical castration and that very few animals that have been given contraceptive pills or other types of contraception can become pregnant again when the contraception is cancelled. This is a disaster as you then have a major number of animals that are unable to breed and produce the necessary number of young to maintain the population. Furthermore, new research indicates that social animals that do not live together during heat have difficulties breeding afterwards.

 

Is it ok to put down healthy animals?

In the Zoo we allow the animals to breed at natural intervals in order to provide as much natural behavior as possible and in order to have the best possible basis in terms of the breeding co-operation. Should we not be able to send off the young to another zoo by the time they would leave their parents in the wild we put them down. Thereby we ensure that all animals in the Zoo have a good life - long or short.

It is ethically ok to put down healthy animals when it forms part of a well-founded context. Every day millions of animals are put down to be used for food and clothes and all over the world countries regulate their wild animal populations. In Denmark we shoot thousands of deer – in many other countries it is rabbits and wild boars – all of them healthy animals that are shot in order to secure a healthy and appropriately sized population. Putting down healthy animals is not wrong in itself. You need to have good reason, however. In the Zoo the reason is that we do it in order to secure a healthy animal population for the future. Furthermore, the animals do not go to waste. They are used for education purposes in the shape of dissections, fur and bones are used in teaching or form part of scientific research that helps produce as much knowledge as possible about the animals in our custody. Finally, some of the animals are used as feed for the carnivores.

 

Is it possible to reintroduce animals to the wild?

Animals are only to be reintroduced to the wild as part of carefully co-ordinated programmes to reestablish animal populations or strengthen existing populations; otherwise it will fail. When reintroducing animals to the wild it must be the genetically “best” animals, not surplus animals. It is necessary to make a thorough selection so that only those animals with the best chances to survive in the wild are reintroduced.

Furthermore, you need to see to it that a number of other conditions are fulfilled: The threat that originally caused the species to be endangered, must be under control, a strong food source must be available to prevent them from starving and there must be sufficient space in order for them to be able to establish the necessary territories etc. – factors that are all described in detail by IUCN, the international union of nature conservation. Using nature as a “dumping ground” for unwanted animals is not an option.

 

Surplus is positive

“Surplus animals” is a natural phenomenon and a consequence of the animals breeding well. It is positive and necessary to secure the species for the future. In the wild the animals deliver far more young than there is space for. Many young die at an early age. Of a pride of four lions on average only one survives to the age of two. The other three typically die from starvation, disease or get eaten by other animals. If the lions only delivered the number of young necessary to replace the animals that die from old age the lion population would soon become extinct.

This is how it is in the Zoo as well. Even though we co-operate with other zoos there is only limited space and we constantly need to adapt the population to the space available. If the animals breed well it means that a surplus will arise, which brings us back to the discussion about which animals that should be allowed to breed.

 

By Bengt Holst, director of research and conservation

BBC Horizon om moderne zoodrift

BBC Horizon har besøgt flere zoos i verden for at dokumentere, hvordan moderne zoologiske haver drives. I sommers gæstede de også Zoo, hvor de grundigt fulgte en dissektion af en sabelantilope og interviewede dyrlægen om den forskning antilopen bidrager til.

Nedenfor fortæller BBC Horizons vært Liz Bonnin om besøget i Zoo.

BBC Horizon visited several zoos in the world to document how modern zoos are operated. This summer they visited Copenhagen Zoo and carefully followed a dissection of an antelope and interviewed the vet about the research that the antelope contributes to.

Below BBC Horizon host Liz Bonnin tells about the visit in Copenhagen Zoo.

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Q & A to scientific director Bengt Holst

Why does Copenhagen Zoo euthanize healthy animals?

Copenhagen Zoo’s animals are part of an international breeding programme which aims at ensuring a healthy animal population in European zoos. This is done by constantly ensuring that only unrelated animals breed so that inbreeding is avoided. If an animal’s genes are well represented in a population further breeding with that particular animal is unwanted. When an animal's genes are well represented in the breeding programme and there is no place for the animal in another zoo, the European Breeding Programme has agreed that the animal is to be euthanized. This is a situation that we know from other group animals that breed well. When breeding success increases it is sometimes necessary to euthanize.

We see this as a positive sign and as an insurance that we in the future will have a healthy animal population in European zoos. The same type of management is used in deer parks where red deer and fallow deer are culled to keep the populations healthy. The most important factor must be that the animals are healthy physically and behaviourally and that they have a good life whilst they are living whether this life is long or short. This is something Copenhagen Zoo believes strongly in. 

 

Why are the animals not given contraceptives?

In Copenhagen Zoo we let the animals breed naturally. With naturally we mean that they will get young within the same intervals as they would in the wild. That means that the animals get to carry out their natural behaviours. Parental care is a big part of an animal’s behaviour. It is a 24 hour job in longer periods of their lives and we believe that they should still be able to carry out this type of behaviour also in captivity. Contraceptives have a number of unwanted side effects on the internal organs and we would therefore apply a poorer animal welfare if we did not euthanize.

 

Why not transfer the animal to a zoo which is not part of the breeding programme or to a zoo that is interested in getting the animal?  

Only zoos that follow certain rules can be part of international breeding programmes. In Europe this is only the zoos that are members of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA). EAZA is an association that counts just over 300 members.

As a member of EAZA you agree to the following rules of not selling animals, working on a scientific basis and ensuring animal welfare. The international breeding programmes are fully controlled and open and are collaborations between institutions that follow from the same set of rules. This is important for the breeding programmes to work.

 

Why can't the animal be released in the wild?

It is not easy to reintroduce an animal to the wild. Many factors have to be considered and these are described in detail in IUCN's Reintroduction Guidelines (IUCN: International Union for Conservation of Nature). You can not just set animals ‘free’ if there is no possibility of them surviving.  First of all you have to consider what made the animal endangered in the first place and whether this is still the case.

Another important factor is local support as it is the local community that has to live with the animals. Unless it is part of an official release programme animals are not reintroduced. The natural habitats will be full of dangers and challenges so the animals that evidently are part of a reintroduction programme will be carefully selected to increase the chance of survival.

 

What does Copenhagen Zoo do with the dead animals?

After euthanasia the animal will be autopsied as we do with all our animals. That way we will collect important knowledge about the animal – knowledge that can benefit other animals of the same species. In case of euthanizing for example an antelope, horse or giraffe, the carcass will be used as food for the Zoo’s carnivores. When animals are euthanized with an overdose of aesthetic it is not possible to use the remains for food. However if the animal is first anaesthetized and then put down with a bolt pistol (same procedure as with horses and cows) it can be given to the carnivores.



Why does Copenhagen Zoo do public autopsies?

At Copenhagen Zoo we perform autopsies on all animals that die - from the smallest mouse to antelopes and elephants. We do this in order to gain new knowledge about the animals and to prevent diseases. Sometime, when we need to perform an autopsy, we invite our guests to observe our vets conducting the important work.

The vets are good communicators and during the autopsy they explain what we see, and how the whole organism works in an educational effort directed towards our guests. We are always careful to inform our guests beforehand that the process might be considered overwhelming for some and what they can expect if they chose to attend the autopsy.

By scientific director Bengt Holst

Q & A to scientific director Bengt Holst

Why does Copenhagen Zoo euthanize healthy animals?

Copenhagen Zoo’s animals are part of an international breeding programme which aims at ensuring a healthy animal population in European zoos. This is done by constantly ensuring that only unrelated animals breed so that inbreeding is avoided. If an animal’s genes are well represented in a population further breeding with that particular animal is unwanted. When an animal's genes are well represented in the breeding programme and there is no place for the animal in another zoo, the European Breeding Programme has agreed that the animal is to be euthanized. This is a situation that we know from other group animals that breed well. When breeding success increases it is sometimes necessary to euthanize.

We see this as a positive sign and as an insurance that we in the future will have a healthy animal population in European zoos. The same type of management is used in deer parks where red deer and fallow deer are culled to keep the populations healthy. The most important factor must be that the animals are healthy physically and behaviourally and that they have a good life whilst they are living whether this life is long or short. This is something Copenhagen Zoo believes strongly in. 

 

Why are the animals not given contraceptives?

In Copenhagen Zoo we let the animals breed naturally. With naturally we mean that they will get young within the same intervals as they would in the wild. That means that the animals get to carry out their natural behaviours. Parental care is a big part of an animal’s behaviour. It is a 24 hour job in longer periods of their lives and we believe that they should still be able to carry out this type of behaviour also in captivity. Contraceptives have a number of unwanted side effects on the internal organs and we would therefore apply a poorer animal welfare if we did not euthanize.

 

Why not transfer the animal to a zoo which is not part of the breeding programme or to a zoo that is interested in getting the animal?  

Only zoos that follow certain rules can be part of international breeding programmes. In Europe this is only the zoos that are members of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA). EAZA is an association that counts just over 300 members.

As a member of EAZA you agree to the following rules of not selling animals, working on a scientific basis and ensuring animal welfare. The international breeding programmes are fully controlled and open and are collaborations between institutions that follow from the same set of rules. This is important for the breeding programmes to work.

 

Why can't the animal be released in the wild?

It is not easy to reintroduce an animal to the wild. Many factors have to be considered and these are described in detail in IUCN's Reintroduction Guidelines (IUCN: International Union for Conservation of Nature). You can not just set animals ‘free’ if there is no possibility of them surviving.  First of all you have to consider what made the animal endangered in the first place and whether this is still the case.

Another important factor is local support as it is the local community that has to live with the animals. Unless it is part of an official release programme animals are not reintroduced. The natural habitats will be full of dangers and challenges so the animals that evidently are part of a reintroduction programme will be carefully selected to increase the chance of survival.

 

What does Copenhagen Zoo do with the dead animals?

After euthanasia the animal will be autopsied as we do with all our animals. That way we will collect important knowledge about the animal – knowledge that can benefit other animals of the same species. In case of euthanizing for example an antelope, horse or giraffe, the carcass will be used as food for the Zoo’s carnivores. When animals are euthanized with an overdose of aesthetic it is not possible to use the remains for food. However if the animal is first anaesthetized and then put down with a bolt pistol (same procedure as with horses and cows) it can be given to the carnivores.



Why does Copenhagen Zoo do public autopsies?

At Copenhagen Zoo we perform autopsies on all animals that die - from the smallest mouse to antelopes and elephants. We do this in order to gain new knowledge about the animals and to prevent diseases. Sometime, when we need to perform an autopsy, we invite our guests to observe our vets conducting the important work.

The vets are good communicators and during the autopsy they explain what we see, and how the whole organism works in an educational effort directed towards our guests. We are always careful to inform our guests beforehand that the process might be considered overwhelming for some and what they can expect if they chose to attend the autopsy.

By scientific director Bengt Holst

FURTHER READING

A lot has been said about the euthanasia of the above mentioned giraffe. People and organisations from all over the world have stated their criticque or support of the action, and as so often happens there have also been a lot of misunderstandings. Consequently there is a need for clarification.

In the article scientific director Bengt Holst has described what REALLY happened as well as the background for the decisions.

The three main points of criticism were:

  • Euthanasia/culling of a 2 year old male giraffe
  • Inviting the public to watch the autopsy
  • Feeding the carcass to the lions

Please find the answers in the full article here:


FURTHER READING

FURTHER READING

A lot has been said about the euthanasia of the above mentioned giraffe. People and organisations from all over the world have stated their criticque or support of the action, and as so often happens there have also been a lot of misunderstandings. Consequently there is a need for clarification.

In the article scientific director Bengt Holst has described what REALLY happened as well as the background for the decisions.

The three main points of criticism were:

  • Euthanasia/culling of a 2 year old male giraffe
  • Inviting the public to watch the autopsy
  • Feeding the carcass to the lions

Please find the answers in the full article here:


FURTHER READING