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Zoos plan to kill gorillas

From internal papers European Association of Zoos EAZA is considering killing “superfluous” young male gorillas in its affiliated zoos if necessary: ​​it is the best way “from a biological point of view” to manage the overwhelming population of male animals.

In fact, in European zoos, gorillas are ‘captive-bred’ in such large numbers that there is no longer enough space for them. There are currently 463 gorillas living in the almost 70 facilities belonging to the association, 212 of which are male.

Despite the overpopulation of male gorillas in European zoos, which has long been recognized as a problem within zoos, “breeding” continues unhindered (at Krefeld Zoo, for example, where six gorillas currently live, further “breeding” groups are to be set up). For what reason? Because gorilla babies are guaranteed box office magnets (“Oh, how cute”). When they reach puberty, the males have to be sorted out, since gorillas live in harem families (1 m and several f) in which only one adult male (silverback) is tolerated. What to do with the now “superfluous” male cubs? According to the logic of the zoo operator, they have to be killed because there is no room for them or to make room for new babies as new cash register magnets. And all this under the flag of “species protection”.

The reflections, sent internally to EAZA member zoos, were reported by a whistleblower to the UK daily The Guardian punctured so that they came to light. Much to the displeasure of EAZA, which had already expressed the fear in its paper that the killing (culling) of the surplus gorillas, although “the most appropriate tool” for population management, could possibly meet with public resistance (the decision could be unpopular with the public).

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Gorilla at Zoo Cologne
Gorilla at Zoo Cologne

And the leaked EAZA paper goes on to say: “The main disadvantage of this option is that it is controversial in many countries and even illegal in some under certain circumstances. Any discussion about killing can quickly become emotional as it is easy to empathize with gorillas. This carries a high risk that an emotional response from the public and/or zoo staff fueled by social media could harm zoos and aquariums”. (The main downside of this option is that it is controversial in many countries and in some illegal, in specific circumstances. Any discussion on culling can quickly become an emotional one because it is easy to empathise with gorillas. This carries a high risk that an emotional response by the public and/or zoo staff and keepers, catalysed by social media, inflicts damage to zoos and aquariums.) Eine EAZA-Sprecherin bestätigte dem Guardianthe option to kill “surplus” animals is “part of the management plan”.

Massive criticism

Animal rights activists from all over the world were and are appalled. This was followed by massive criticism of the considerations and simulation games of the European Zoo Association. In a hastily published statement, EAZA tried to calm things down. They backtracked verbosely, emphasizing that not a single male gorilla had been killed for management reasons, and that there were no immediate or medium-term plans to do so. Rather, EAZA regularly conducts “in-depth internal discussions” to be prepared for any eventuality. This necessarily means that perspectives and plans are also presented that one hopes will never have to be implemented.

Instead, the focus is on reintroduction, castration and reducing the number of female animals in the harem groups. Indeed, since releases from zoos are virtually impossible, since 2011 zoos have primarily resorted to neutering as a means of “population management”. But even for the castrated male gorillas, who can remain in their families of origin beyond puberty or form their own bachelor groups as “blackbacks”, it is becoming too cramped in European zoos. More harem groups, each with fewer female animals, are not a solution either. Hence the current considerations of the association.

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This is not true

Gorilla in Leipzig Zoo
Gorilla in Leipzig Zoo

According to EAZA in its statement, it would be a deliberate and malicious misrepresentation of these discussions to claim that such considerations are planned to be put into practice. That’s not true. It is also misleading to claim that EAZA requires its member zoos to kill the animals (which, on the one hand, nobody has claimed and which, at least in this country, would not be legally feasible at all: in German zoos, the killing of animals is Not allowed for “management reasons”, but in other European countries it is (cf. giraffe bull Marius in Copenhagen Zoo).

So far, according to EAZA, the culling of surplus gorillas is not recommended for member zoos (So far, culling is not recommended…) and it is unlikely that this will change in the short or medium term. (…this is unlikely to change over the short to medium term). Should such measures become necessary at some point, however, this will be communicated “transparently and with consideration for public opinion”.

In summary, the killing of “surplus” zoo gorillas remains an option that EAZA considers in principle worth considering and possibly necessary. All German zoos in which gorillas are kept captive and exhibited (Leipzig / Frankfurt am Main / Gelsenkirchen / Rostock / Munich / Nuremberg / Berlin / Duisburg / Saarbrücken / Stuttgart / Münster / Heidelberg / Hanover / Cologne and Krefeld) are full members of EAZA, are therefore subject to their provisions.

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