A healthy young giraffe named Marius was euthanized by the Copenhagen Zoo despite an online petition and offers from other zoos and institutions to house the animal. According to the zoo, the euthanization was in accordance with policies of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria in order to prevent inbreeding in the giraffe population. The zoo's decision has been denounced by animal rights groups who have called the practice "unethical."

According to the Copenhagen Zoo, "If an animal’s genes are well represented in a population, further breeding with that particular animal is unwanted. As this giraffe’s genes are well represented in the breeding program and as there is no place for the giraffe in the zoo’s giraffe herd, the European Breeding Program for Giraffes has agreed that Copenhagen Zoo euthanize the giraffe."

The Associated Press reports zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro said the giraffe was killed using a bolt pistol. As part of the zoo's educational efforts, visitors were allowed to watch as the carcass was skinned and fed to lions, reports BBC. The Copenhagen Zoo has seven other giraffes, and despite offers from other zoos, as well as a private individual, to purchase Marius, the zoo said it cannot sell or transfer animals to institutions that are not members of the EAZA, notes AP. The zoo ruled out releasing Marius into the wild as it would have little chance for survival.

Stine Jensen, from Denmark's Organisation Against the Suffering of Animals, told the BBC, "It just shows that the zoo is in fact not the ethical institution that it wants to portray itself as being, because here you have a waste product -- that being Marius."

Based on the success of the giraffe breeding program, the zoo said it must, at times, cull the population. "We see this as a positive sign and as insurance that we in the future will have a healthy giraffe 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 Copenhagen Zoo said in a statement. Contraceptives are not used as they could damage the animals' internal organs.

The zoo will also donate parts of the giraffe to research and scientific institutions for study. On a Facebook post, the zoo said the giraffe's larynx will be sent to an institute for giraffe communication research while other parts while used in anatomy studies.