Oryxes are animals similar to gazelles that don't appear in their natural habitat in North Africa anymore. Consequently, the species only survives through breeding programmes in zoos. In mid-March, a perfectly healthy Sahara Oryx was born at Planckendael, but it was nevertheless killed. Two bison shared the same fate, reports newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws.
The Royal Fund for Zoology in Antwerp, to which Planckendael is associated, admits that euthanising animals is part of the policy around 'surplus animals'. These are animals that are healthy, but that the zoo doesn't need or doesn't have room for, and that can't be transferred to another animal park.
"In herds, the male often has several females that he doesn't want to share, leaving no room for a second male", explains Francis Vercammen, Planckendael veterinarian. "So it's often genetic variation that's causing the problem. A male Oryx is brought up in the herd with his parents and his 'aunts'. But as soon as he reaches adulthood, he becomes competition to his father, and so he is expelled from the herd or killed. If we wouldn't intervene, terrible things might happen."
Mr Vercammen understands the controversy around euthanising healthy animals. "We don't enjoy doing it ourselves, but it's become part of life here." It is not the first time that killing excess animals causes a stir: last year there was a lot of commotion in the media around the Copenhagen zoo feeding a giraffe to the lions.
Animal rights organisation GAIA is not planning to file a complaint for now, but hopes the zoo's management board is open to debate. "We want Planckendael to change its policy and integrate a thorough contraception programme", says GAIA Chairman Michel Vandenbosch. "This problem can be avoided, but the zoo lets the young animals be born because they know they're cute and will attract visitors and proceeds. So they're creating their own dilemma."
GAIA also thinks that the search for a new home for the surplus animals should be more comprehensive. "If no new home can be found, the animal park should build new shelters for the animals to live in decent conditions." Mr Vandenbosch also objects to the use of the term 'euthanasia': "Euthanasia implies a release from suffering, which isn't at all the case with these animals."
Mr Vandenbosch says it would be noble of Planckendael to take the first step by approaching GAIA. "They have my phone number and can always reach me", the chairman adds. "I hope we can solve this problem without going to court. But I will not hesitate once it's become clear that there's no other option."