Copenhagen Zoo Kills Four Lions: Was this Slaughter Necessary?

I was heartbroken and enraged when I accidently ran across a news item about the Copenhagen Zoo². The item reported the recent killing of four healthy lions to make room for a new, almost three-year old male lion.

Copenhagen Zoo Kills Four Lions: Was this Slaughter Necessary?

Photo credit: Flickr User: Cody Kwok (this is not one of the Copenhagen lions)

It goes without saying that lions are majestic animals. These big cats are not only highly intelligent; they are the most socially inclined species of all the wild felids who live in prides that are carefully organized.

But, according to Big Cat Rescue and other organizations dedicated to big cat welfare, due to human interference and disease, lions in the wild in Africa and Asia are in grave danger of extinction. The lion population has dwindled as much as eighty-five percent over the past twenty years. These numbers are alarming and tragic to those who are aware how important they are in the overall ecology in the areas in which they reside.

For just for a moment close your eyes and imagine a world devoid of the close-knit family prides of majestic lions roaming their territories throughout the African jungles and plains. The thought makes me very sad.

While Big Cat Rescue and many other accredited sanctuaries engage in heroic work giving lions and other abandoned, abused or unwanted big cats permanent caring homes, not all facilities housing these exquisite animals are helping to protect them. Although there are zoos around the world whose mission is species preservation and accomplish this by breeding lions and other endangered large animals, why would a Denmark zoo purposely destroy four of their lions?

Copenhagen zoo lions

Copenhagen Zoo lions

The Copenhagen zoo killed the sixteen year-old resident male heading the pride. Officials justified this action, claiming the new lion wouldn’t have been accepted by the pride as long as the old resident lion remained on the premises. The older female lion was euthanized at 14 years of age. Officals additionally explained that it was necessary to kill the adult lions to prevent in-breeding and it was essential to introduce an unrelated bloodline.

In a statement a zoo official said,

“Furthermore we couldn’t risk that the male lion [had] mated with the old female as she was too old to be mated with again, due to the fact that she would have difficulties with birth and parental care of another litter.”

Officials further justified the slaying of the two “helpless” lion cubs claiming they were too young to take care of themselves. And since he did not sire the cubs, the new lion would have instinctively killed them,

Apparently, the four lions were euthanized after the zoo was not able to find a facility to take them. According to the National Geographic, The U.S. Association of Zoos and Aquariums did not respond to requests to re-home the four healthy lions which the Copenhagen Zoo euthanized.

The new male lion is scheduled to arrive at the Copenhagen Zoo within the next several days and will then be introduced to the zoo’s two female lions who at two years of age are ready to be bred. The zoo is hopeful that these three lions will form the core of a new pride.

European zoos annually euthanize thousands of animals. Zoo managers claim that their job is to preserve the species, not to save individual animals.

Last month, thousands of animal lovers were outraged when the Copenhagen Zoo euthanized Marius, a healthy two year-old giraffe. The zoo manager even received death threats after the giraffe was dissected publically, in front of visitors, (including children). Zoo officials justified the killing of the giraffe stating that he didn’t fit into their breeding program. Sadly, no major attempts were made get Marius re-homed.

Apparently finding appropriate homes for these animals in an accredited sanctuary is not a top priority for the Copenhagen Zoo. This writer feels strongly that although species preservation is crucial, euthanizing animal as a “convenience” because they don’t fit into a breeding program, or they lack the suficient resources to find homes for them, shows little or no compassion or respect for healthy, living animals. It’s very disturbing to me that zoos claiming to conserve wild species put their breeding stock into a “disposable” category. Instead of killing them it’s high time that an ethical solution is reached mandating these zoos to do everything within their power to re-home healthy animals that are no longer useful in their breeding programs.

Recently a similar story came out of England, UK, of lions being mismanaged. For more information about the story, check out the video uploaded to YouTube Today World News

How do you feel about the Copenhagen Zoo’s actions? Tell us in a comment.



  1. BBC News, Washington Post, New York Times, Big Cat Rescue
  2. In
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Copenhagen Zoo Kills Four Lions: Was this Slaughter Necessary? — 25 Comments

  1. Whats the definition of a zoo ?I was illiterate about European zoo animal culling until i read about the euthanized giraffe.Now it has progressed to lions euthanasia in the same zoo.Zoo’s are places where the animals and bird species are artificially caged for the benefit of us humans.What right do we humans have to euthanize a healthy animal just because it is a unfit specimen in the zoo’s programme of breeding or species propagation.My pet male tomcat “Matata” was and is useless as a stud cat but a loving pet and does that give me license to euthanize him ? pLease stop this selective killing of zoo animals.I can just write my opinion and hope some legislation follows in the near future.I have attached a photo of a Takin, the national animal that i photographed in Thimphu.Thanks to this zoo i and fellow tourists got to view this unique animal.Thats the job of zoo’s, exhibiting animal species for educational purposes as well as preventing extinction.

    • As I understand it, Rudolph, the situation regarding the wild cat species in zoos is not that good. While cats do not do well in zoos and there is a massive problem with inbreeding. Zoos don’t really, in truth, help with conservation of any particular species and certainly not the wild cat species because they can become so inbred that there either deformed (the white tiger is the classic example) or sterile. There is a real difficulty in maintaining a wide gene pool because it means importing genuine wild cats from the wild and what is the point of that when they are better off in the wild? The zoo system in my opinion is a failure because although they constantly say it is about conservation, it is not. It is about money and commerce ultimately at the expense of the animals.

      • There are zoos that actually do work with dna and genetics to cut back on inbreeding. I talked to one of the big cat keepers at the Milwaukee Zoo(an accredited zoo) and there is a dna database that is used to to help conservation and broaden the gene pool. Without captive breeding programs, wild cat species, like the Iberian Lynx, could go extinct.

        • I agree that a lot of effort is going into trying to avoid inbreeding because without the effort captive cats will become extinct because they no longer breed. The problem is that whatever managers and owners of zoos do, in my opinion, it will be a failure because the whole model, the whole concept of zoos is a failure, certainly with respect to wild cat species. At a fundamental level wild cats require vast amounts of space. Even medium-sized wild cats can require up to 50 km² of space in order to live naturally and yet they are put into cages or enclosures of one quarter of an acre! How can you expect an animal to behave naturally under those circumstances and if they’re stressed this feeds back to their behaviour and their reproductive abilities. I think it is time that people in the business of owning a zoo admitted that they struggle and fail in successfully keeping captive wild cat species.

  2. Rudolph,

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Animal life is precious and need protection.My heart sank when I read about the giraffes, and now- this? Lions?? The world must start paying attention to and express their contempt for what Copenhagen and other zoos are doing. Homes CAN be found if concern for the genetic pool is essential. But killing them? That is not right- nor is it ethical.

  3. It makes me sick, they killed off perfectly healthy animals to bring in something else for people to gawp at, they said the older lions were nearing the end of captive animals lifespan, they said the giraffe didn’t fit in, they were offered a home for him by another zoo but they chose to murder him and butcher him in public and feed him to the lions they’ve just killed. If I had my way all zoos would be closed forthwith, no exceptions, parts of the planet would be restricted to animals only and anyone who exploited wild animals, killed or captured them for gain in any way shape or form would be put up against a wall and shot, I would volunteer to shoot them. I am so sick of reading about cruelty to animals of all species.

  4. This is nothing short of a crime. The female may have mated with the male and they thought it might endanger her life? SPAY HER! Spaying can be done very early in a pregnancy (heartbreaking as it may be) but she would have lived.

    If zoo’s are so worried about inbreeding why are females not spayed and males given vasectomies (if neutered, they may lose their manes)

    And why on God’s green earth kill two cubs?

    No. This is wrong wrong wrong on so many different levels I can’t begin to count them. The daggone zoos in this county should be closed if they cannot care for their animals better than this.

    In fact, I believe they should be phased out altogether. Plink Plink.

    • I am one of those people who hate the concept of zoos. I hate everything about them because they represent a failure of humankind; the failure to live in harmony with other species who should be allowed to live in their natural habitat.

      All we can do is dominate and incarcerate other species of animal for our entertainment on the pretext that it is for conservation.

      It is well-known that felines do badly in captivity. As I understand it, almost all cats in captivity are in danger of extinction because of inbreeding, stress and common sense dictates that the life of a cat in a cage and zoo is going to be short and a failure (for the cat).

      We’re heading for a situation where all the wild cats species are in zoos and there are none in the wild when what we should be heading for is working out how we can live in harmony with the wild cats species who live in their own habitat. We have missed that opportunity, we will never get it back. When we look back in about 20 to 100 years time we will be able to have only one conclusion, one thought: we failed.

      • Amen, Michael, Amen. My granddaughters have been lucky enough to see some of the animals that will soon be extinct. Their children and grandchildren will not be as lucky…except in books. Sad. We have taken their land so we may have more money. We have killed them so we can sell their hides and their tusks so we may have more money. SHAME ON US.

        • One of the big bugbears for me, one of the things that really annoys me is that humankind totally deceives itself in believing that we are doing some sort of conservation. It is a complete sham. There is only one possible conclusion based on what I see at the moment: the end of the tiger and the lion and many other wild cat species in the wild in about 20 to approximately 50 years time. I will be dead by then I’ll tell you something; I will be glad to be off this planet because what I love about the planet is being destroyed.

          • I totally agree, Michael. All the “junk” going around about being “green”…there’s a great comeback going around the internet about how our generation was the one that hung our clothes outside, used reuseable coke and milk bottles, it goes on and on. We’re not only destroying the animals we should be protecting and nurturing, we’re destroying the plant itself. I for one consider myself lucky to have been born when I was. When I could go out and play and not worry about what parents worry about today. We should not have survived. We didn’t have bike helmets, knee pads elbow and wrist guards for our roller skates that we bolted to our shoes with a key, and most of us raised our kids with carseats that just hung over the front seats. Life was much simpler back then. Life was better back then. We should be ashamed of what we’ve allowed this planet to become. I remember telling my kids to go out and play, but their friends couldn’t because their mom said “it was too hot” But I digress. This country is so messed up there’s no hope for it. Well, I guess there’s one home. If you’re a Christian, it’ll be when the good Lord comes back for us. That’s it. I hate to wonder what the world will be like for my grandkids as adults and for their kids.

  5. Setting aside my opinion that cats should not be in zoos, I guess I’m just naive about this whole thing.
    I don’t understand why the family couldn’t be moved another section of the zoo.
    I understand that they don’t want the 2 adults to mate anymore, so I agree with Donna. Spaying/neutering (vasectomy) is the answer. Ofcourse, there’s a risk because of age, but they were going to kill them anyway; so, why not take the risk?

  6. Dee I agree with you totally on this. I am sure they coud have found a place for them. I just turns my stomach.

    Two males- especially an older one who headed the pride won’t accept a new male- intruder. Much fighting and the old guy might be seriously injured. But for Heaven’s sake why not let him spend the rest of his life in a safe place on their property.. SIGH

  7. I’m officially banned from being online for 3 mos. due to a medical emergency; but I am able to delete emails and pay bills, and your article cannot go without a reply, Jo. To keep it short and printable, may I just offer my humble opinion that those responsible for these killings should be fired and castigated. They are obviously without heart and lacking in soul. As for their arguments, IMHO, they are sick, demented and brutal. I’ll stop there, while I’m still printable. May the souls of those innocent beings be forever protected by the Almighty. And may the staff of Copenhagen Zoo be informed that lions are severely threatened and in imminent danger of extinction. Yes, it’s true.

  8. hi guys totally wrong this. i was ashamed and shocked when i read this for the first time. This zoo should be shut down. Its just wrong on so many levels. Its a sad day for all animaals.

  9. This makes me sick. There could be other arrangements made than killing them. They could have either made different enclosures for them or moved them to a different facility. If money is that much of a factor, they should not be caring for any animal in the first place. They should let another facility take over and relinquish their entire operation. Don’t care about other opinions, that is mine and I stand by it.

    • The underlying cause of this behaviour by these zoo keepers is the failure of zoos in the 1st place. They are unable to look after wild cat species successfully. Wild cat species do not do well in captivity. They are unable to breed properly in captivity. They are stressed. They live in tiny environments which are unnaturally small. Lions and tigers require vast ranges in order to live naturally. The whole setup is a disaster and you have to do these ridiculous and cruel things to try and make it work so you compound the problem really.

      • So true Michael!

        The cubs were a “miracle”, in my opinion. That they didn’t find homes for CUBS is surely a disgrace.

        Furthermore slaying that giraffe got me so incredibly upset. I think you rememeber how I felt about that.

        These so called “conservation” zoos SHOULD be capable of making alternative plans for animals that need moving. It should be a requirement- otherwise the zoo should lose its permit as a conservation facility.

        • Thanks, Jo, for supporting my passionate comment. You can tell that I truly hate it. I hate this sort of thing with a vengeance and I know that it hurts me and depresses me. This terrible relationship that we have with wild animals and the wild cat species in particular is a great wound on the face of humanity and it is really about time we changed course on this.

    • Vicki, I totally agree with you. It makes me sick too. I’m fed up with this sort of behaviour from people who pretend that they are involved with conservation when clearly that is not a priority, far from it.

  10. Heart breaking and cruel and I wish zoos had never been invented, why couldn’t people just leave wild animals in the wild where they belong? Why do they have to own and display them?
    I can’t bear to think of the frustration and unhappiness of any caged animal and that their lives are in the hands of unfeeling humans!
    They should be living free in the habitat which was intended for them.
    One day it will be too late, humans will have destroyed everything and that day is approaching fast now.
    The only hope for this planet is the end of the human species!

  11. If wild populations can be controlled with birth control than why is it that this zoo thinks that they have to breed and then kill their animals? It just doesn’t make sense. With wild populations declining this zoo is successfully breeding animals and then killing them. A sad scenario for sure. Our local zoo keeps their elderly zoo animals and lets them live out their lives before purchasing new animals. This zoo is not be managed well at all. I know that keeping a healthy breeding population is important but this is just wrong.

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