Keepers at a Danish zoo defend their decision to put down a "surplus" giraffe in front of a crowd of people, saying that it was following strict anti-breeding rules.

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Eighteen-month-old Marius, a giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo, was coaxed into a yard of the zoo and given his favourite food of rye bread as a last supper.

He was then shot in the head from behind and cut apart in front of a crowd in people, before parts of the carcass were fed to lions.

The decision to euthanise the giraffe using a bolt gun had sparked outrage from animal rights activists, including an online petition with 25,000 signatures. British and Swedish zoos had also put in last ditch bids to re-home the animal, including one from the Yorkshire Wildlife Park.

John Minion, joint managing director of the Yorkshire park said: "We have tried to contact Copenhagen to confirm if they are looking to rehome their young giraffe, as this could be a solution that provides a positive outcome for everyone - including Marius".

But senior staff at the zoo defended the decision, saying it is normal practice for zoos to maintain a "sound population" as part of an international breeding programme.

'Why does Copenhagen Zoo euthanise a giraffe?'

In a statement in English posted on the zoo's website, Why does Copenhagen Zoo euthanise a giraffe?, the zoo said that killing the giraffe was "in agreement with the European breeding program" and that transferring the animal to another zoo would "cause inbreeding."

"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 euthanise the giraffe," said the statement from the zoo's Scientific Director Bengt Holst.

"When breeding success increases, it is sometimes necessary to euthanise."

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Zoo animals are killed every year to avoid in-breeding, but Copenhagen Zoo said it has never put down a giraffe.

Officials said that it was not an option to send Marius to a national park in Africa as he could be seen as a prey because of his attachment to humans.

All other attempts to re-home the giraffe were unsuccessful, the zoo said. It added that a lethal injection would have contaminated the meat, and a substantial amount of it will also be used in research.

So on Sunday morning, Marius giraffe was dismembered in front of a crowd including children, and fed to carnivores within the compound.

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