COPENHAGEN (AFP) - A Danish zoo sparked outrage on Sunday when it put down a healthy young giraffe to prevent inbreeding, before chopping it up and feeding it to lions.
The fate of 18-month-old Marius shocked animal lovers around the world, with thousands signing an online petition to save him and a billionaire offering to buy him and keep him in his Beverly Hills garden.
However last-ditch efforts to spare Marius were to no avail and he was put down with a bolt gun early on Sunday, zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro confirmed.
A crowd of visitors, including small children, looked on as the giraffe was put down. Some grimaced while others took photos as he was autopsied and chopped up. A full-maned lion later tucked into the giraffe's remains, fed to carnivores at the zoo.
"It was put down at 9.20am. It went as planned. It's always the people's right to protest. But of course we have been surprised," Mr Stenbaek Bro told AFP.
He said some zoo staff had received death threats, including scientific director Bengt Holst, who “received a call in the middle of the night”.
The zoo said it had no choice other than to prevent the animal attaining adulthood.
Under European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) rules, in-breeding between giraffes is to be avoided.
Although Marius is healthy, his genes are already well represented at the zoo and he cannot be taken in by the 300 other EAZA-affiliated zoos.
Castration is considered cruel with "undesirable effects", while releasing him in the wild is thought unlikely to succeed.
The giraffe's impending death sparked outrage online, with more than 5,000 people signing a "Save Marius" Facebook petition. More than 3,000 people signed a similar Danish-language online petition and nearly 24,000 an English-language version.
There were reportedly several attempts made to save Marius.
A Swedish zoo, which is not part of the EAZA network, tried in vain to get Marius transferred, the Expressen daily reported.
And another daily, Denmark's Ekstrabladet, quoted a Danish promoter living in Los Angeles, Mr Claus Hjelmbak, as saying he had found a buyer for the animal.
"One of my close friends, a billionaire, said that she wanted to transfer a few million so we could save the giraffe," Mr Hjelmbak was quoted as saying.
"He could easily have lived in her garden in Beverly Hills, but the zoo director was not interested in a sale. I'm angry," the promoter added.
The zoo had made clear from the beginning of the protest that its policy was not to sell the animals.
A wildlife park in Britain said it had urgently contacted the Copenhagen zoo on Saturday to adopt Marius but had received no response.
The Yorkshire Wildlife Park (YWP) said it was “saddened” to hear that the animal had been killed.“YWP has a state of the art giraffe house built in 2012 with a bachelor herd of four male giraffes and the capacity to take an extra male, subject to the agreement of the European stud book keeper,” the zoo said.
In September 2012 the Copenhagen Zoo sent a giraffe named Palle to the YWP whan he was the same age as Marius.
Mr Jonas Wahlstrom of the Association of Swedish Zoos said he understood why the animal was put down, but not the way his remains were disposed of. “If we announced that in Swedish zoos I think the staff would almost be stoned,” he told Expressen.