The Role of Management Euthanasia in Population Sustainability and Animal Welfare
David M. Powell, PhD
The recent, highly publicized cull of a giraffe at a European zoo has brought the practice of management euthanasia, or culling, to the forefront. But this practice was already being discussed more in recent years as zoological associations around the world are realizing that many of their animal populations are not sustainable for the future. There are also emerging data that suggest that AZA populations could be healthier with more regular breeding, but this presents challenges when space is limited. Addressing the challenges of long-term sustainability and fertility management will require as diverse a toolbox as possible. Management euthanasia could play a role in managing populations to ensure fertility, behavioral skills, genetic diversity, and demographic stability, but it is undoubtedly one of the most difficult tools to implement for a number of reasons and involves inherent, difficult tradeoffs. However, if zoos and aquaria are to deliver on their missions of managing animal populations over the long term for conservation, education, recreation and research, culling may have to be implemented more widely. In this talk, I’ll cover what we know about culling practices in zoos, the philosophical approach the AZA takes to culling, rationale and scenarios for its use, keeper attitudes about the practice, and how AZA institutions could prepare themselves for this practice. Veterinarians will clearly have a role to play in the implementation of this tool and interactive discussion is therefore encouraged.