Longleat criticised for importing koalas for money-making.

Visitors to animal attractions should not be fooled by all the conservation hype.

Longleat Safari Park came under intense criticism in October 2018 by the Born Free Foundation for importing five southern Koala bears half-way round the world from eastern Australia to stock their new “Koala Creek” attraction. Although Longleat strongly refuted the suggestion that the attraction was a “money-making” venture and insisted it was a vital conservation and research project it is strange that two wombats were also obtained along with some Pottoroos to form the new Koala Creek located next to the Giant Otters and Crocodiles. Whether scientific or money making it did wonders in increasing footfall and publicity for the park. 

One has already died unnecessarily in the name of conservation.

There was so much wrong with this enterprise including the timing of its opening on the 29th. March just as the school Easter holidays were approaching which cannot have been a coincidence. Longleat were also quick to point out and promote the attraction as the only place in the UK to see Koalas.  It is so similar to the Chinese hiring out Giant pandas for zoos to increase their income.

One female Koala tragically died  soon after arrival from kidney failure.  Luckily it wasn’t Dennis the only male of the five otherwise the ‘breeding programme’ would have been a non-starter. Apparently Dennis was found to be too young to breed anyway so this necessitated another “rare” male 12 year old Koala named Burke, a proven breeder, travelling 10,000 miles from a zoo in Japan. So far it would appear that neither Dennis or Burke are making much headway in saving the world’s koala species. 

There is also the question of how “vulnerable” Koala numbers are, as Australian authorities have in the past allegedly killed at least 700 koalas in euthanasia culls in coastal bushland areas near Melbourne because of overpopulation and “for their own good”. Koala  populations are “strong” in southern Australia according to many sources and there are dozens of sanctuaries, zoos, wildlife parks and attractions throughout Australia that have them in captivity. 

The Koalas have not been but from a pseudo wildlife park called Cleland Park which is one of the few in Australia where you can manhandle and cuddle these shy, sedate and easily stressed animals for an extra fee to have your photograph taken. This behaviour is finally being phased out by most other similar enterprises.

male tiger in zoo

Lions and Tigers killed at Longleat.

It is not the first time that Longleat has come under scrutiny as in 2014 The Mail on Sunday newspaper alleged that they had a lion breeding programme to ensure there are always cubs on show and that they had killed adults and cubs in the past. In February 2019 a female tiger named Amur was killed in a fight with two other tigers and two other female tigers died an early death, one from cancer and the other from a heart attack brought on by a routine medical operation. These were part of another breeding programme which produced two cubs in 2019, but obviously not doing much to increase the endangered tiger population with all the deaths.

Zoo conservation programmes are often not what they seem and the animals often suffer the consequences of the research. Zoos like to hide behind their conservation and educational credentials rather than admit that they are predominately part of the entertainment industry and for this reason it is not surprising that some people may approach such projects cynically and view them unethical. I hope that everyone who visits such attractions should not be fooled by all the conservation hype and appreciate what animals have gone through to provide a day’s entertainment.

What is Zoonasia?

We seem to have little knowledge or understanding of the secret world of ‘disposal of genetic surplus’ or in layman’s terms – the euthanasia of zoo animals not suitable for breeding in the opinion of science.

Cruelty to zoo animals, zoonasia, zoo lions,
Iconic zoo animals are often killed as surplus to requirements.

The declared dogma of most reputable zoos is that of a scientific and research emphasis based on doing everything possible to save species from extinction by any means possible. Most of this work operates behind the scenes and therefore is not entirely understood by the public and many of us may feel uncomfortable about what is involved in saving species.

In many ways the modern-day ‘professional’ zoo can almost be likened to a research laboratory where they use a team of veterinarians, scientists and researchers to carry out their breeding programmes, but when such professionals become involved in ‘saving’ or ‘rescuing’ species, the rights, welfare and interests of the individual animals become less important  and sometimes lost.

Jens Sigsgaard, a zoologist at Aalborg Zoo in Denmark puts it this way: ‘Our function is not to keep an individual animal alive, but to keep the species alive’.

Zoonasia explained

A major problem for zoos is maintaining a good gene pool of unrelated animals from a dwindling supply of captive animals and avoid inbreeding. This is done by constantly exchanging animals around the world’s zoos, but the difficulty is that it is impossible to breed to order. Therefore  the process of maintaining stocks of endangered and iconic animals for ‘future generations’ involves collateral damage in the form of “surplus” animals.

Iconic animals such as lions and tigers that help pull in the crowds are constantly overbred or are born the wrong sex and become liabilities as do many endangered species if they do not meet the requirements of a breeding program. An estimated 3-5,000 zoo animals are killed each year in the UK, although reliable figures are difficult to obtain or substantiate due to the obvious reluctance to divulge such information. Killing these animals is known in the trade as ‘Zoonasia’. This carnage appears to go mostly unnoticed by the public and even when highlighted is soon forgotten.

Zoos promote a caring public face by giving animals names to make our visits more personal and they are happy to show off expensive natural enclosures, state of the art veterinary care and top-quality diets, but the zoo professionals have a strange detachment when it comes to killing surplus animals.

The case of Marius the Giraffe

This subject came to public attention in 2014 with the story of a two-year-old male giraffe named Marius who was killed at the Copenhagen Zoo  by their veterinarian Mads Bertelsen, DVM, DVSc. He then dissected Marius in front of cameras and families with young children on the pretext of education after which his remains were fed to the zoo’s lions.

Zoonasia, zoo animal culling, cruelty to zoo animals
Young zoo animals can find themselves surplus to requirements if they are born the wrong sex.

That same year the zoo killed  four of their lions and dissected a beautiful Sable antelope. The zoo was unrepentant despite worldwide outrage and couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. Bengt Holst, the Director of Research and Conservation was surprised at receiving death threats and a petition to sack him. The zoo not only upset the public, but the zoo profession in general, as they were not best pleased that their relatively secretive activity of culling animals was made so public. The zoo explained their reasoning in this way:

“The side effect is that we have a surplus of animals. It is in fact fortunate that we can use them as food. Instead of killing 20 goats or a cow, we can use the giraffe,” says Mads Frost Bertelsen. Zoo Veterinarian.

Mads Bertelsen, had apparently regularly carried out research on giraffes over the years for their ‘benefit’ and had dissected ‘a large number of surplus giraffes to investigate their cardiovascular anatomy using state-of-the-art methodology.

Jens Sigsgaard, a zoologist at Aalborg Zoo, Denmark was quoted as saying that surplus animals are already dead biologically speaking in the sense that they do not contribute to the next generation’. Only a scientist could refer to animals in this way.

All this is being done on our behalf to save animals for future generations of mankind and for a mythical time when the animals are released back into the wild. But will future generations be that interested as there are few if any wild animals existing already and most people do not seem that worried.

At least one zoologist, Liz Bonnin, has declared that it might be time to close zoos down as they no longer serve any purpose only to entertain and charm the public and has commented: ‘They’re [Giraffes] sentient, emotionally intelligent, cognitively gifted animals that deserve a better quality of life. It’s shameful that we scoff at anybody who raises the issue of animal welfare’.