Although I'm extremely tempted to write about all the things that have been posted on the news websites and social media in the past 48 hours or so about the recently released Shapelle Corby, or even about our snowboarder Rebecca Torr who has apparently taken to location-based dating app Tinder to find Olympian lover in Sochi, it was the saga about a little fella called Marius that caught my attention.

Just 18 months old, he was in a zoo in Copenhagen, Denmark, and was quite happy and healthy. But officials decided to feed him his final meal of rye bread, shoot him with a bolt gun, chop him up and feed him to the lions. Why? Because his genes were too similar to other giraffes.

What followed was a world-wide uproar online.

There are examples of social media campaigns that have shaped public opinion, giving PR people a real challenge, even forcing decision-makers to change direction.

Advertisement

But the campaign set up to save little Marius' life didn't cut it. Copenhagen Zoo management decided to ignore a petition signed by thousands, declined several offers from other European zoos to save the animal, and also said no to an individual who offered to buy Marius for a hefty sum.

The zoo said it euthanised Marius on Sunday because of a duty to avoid inbreeding. After the killing and post-moterm examination, the giraffe was dismembered in front of a captive audience, including plenty of children, and fed to the zoo's carnivores.

It was Bengt Holst, the scientific director of Copenhagen Zoo, who ordered that the giraffe should be shot and animal rights campaigners are now calling for him to be sacked, and much worse. Zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro was left to deal with the media frenzy after Marius was gone.

I wouldn't like to be in Mr Holst or Mr Stenbaek Bro's shoes at the moment. I'm also very glad I'm not in charge of moderating the Copenhagen Zoo Facebook page.

My guess is that the first thing the person in charge of their social media pages did was change the settings. They also quickly added a Q&A page to their website, and I'd be keen to see the spike in hits on that.

Killing the young giraffe was one reason for the outrage, but feeding his remains to the lions in front of children was another. In their defence, Stenbaek Bro said it allowed parents to decide whether their children should watch what the zoo regarded as an important display of scientific knowledge about animals.

"I'm actually proud because I think we have given children a huge understanding of the anatomy of a giraffe that they wouldn't have had from watching a giraffe in a photo," Stenbaek Bro told Associated Press.

But it was Holst who made a comment to the media that I thought was excellently to the point. He said: "I know the giraffe is a nice-looking animal, but I don't think there would have been such an outrage if it had been an antelope, and I don't think anyone would have lifted an eyebrow if it was a pig."

Advertisement

A variety of organisations that defend animal rights jumped on board to discuss the news as quickly as they could, which renewed the debate about the conditions of zoo animals.

A spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in the UK said Marius' case should serve as a wake-up call for anyone who "still harbours the illusion that zoos serve any purpose beyond incarcerating intelligent animals for profit".

Animal Rights Sweden says the case highlights what it believes zoos do to animals regularly and "it is no secret that animals are killed when there is no longer space, or if the animals don't have genes that are interesting enough.

"The only way to stop this is to not visit zoos. When the cute animal babies that attract visitors grow up, they are not as interesting anymore."

I think most inner-city zoos are horrible places. Even when I was a little kid, I wasn't too impressed.

It's easy to see that many zoo animals look bored and subdued. I think lethargic is the word that describes it best. The monkeys are the only ones that seem to be having a bit of fun.

Giraffes are awesome. They are my favourite animals actually. Although the images of dead Marius were a little graphic, I have said it before and I'll say it again: If you happily eat a steak or walk around in leather shoes or with a flash suede handbag, don't moan too much about things like this.

Martine Rolls is a Tauranga writer and digital strategist