Teacher instructions: Euthanasia or Birth Control?
FOR Biology (9th grade)
Students can read NYT article (or shorter version from Science site -- teacher choice).
Depending upon student ability, model or assign taking notes on salient points.
ACT-style prompt asks students to choose a position. Model or assign T-chart or other organizational tool.
Have students write their responses.
Students should evaluate their own responses, color coding the appropriate components and grading according to the ELA Persuasive Rubric.
Student Writing Prompt
One function of a zoo is to preserve diversity in the gene pools of endangered animals. Since zoos have limited resources, zoos use of one of two methods to control the sizes of their animal populations. In the U.S., the method is contraception. Apes take human birth control pills, while other animals eat hormone-spiked food or have slow-releasing hormones implanted in their bodies. The second option, used in European zoos, is to let the animals breed and raise their young, and then euthanize the unneeded
In your essay, take a position on this question. You may write about either one of the two points of view given, or you may present a different view of this question. Use specific reasons and examples to support your position.
ACT Writing Prompt Rubric
Is position clearly stated?
Underline with blue
Is position backed up with at least two reasons (at least one should not be taken from prompt)?
Do these reasons contain "rich and relevant" details?
A controversial choice for zoos: Birth control or euthanasia?
August 16, 2012 | Author:AAAS member -- Freelance Writer Mary Bates, Ph.D.
Nothing draws crowds to a zoo like the birth of an adorable baby animal. But zoos must deal with limited capacity and the need to preserve diversity in the gene pools of endangered species. A New York Times report (see below) examines the difficult choices that zoos worldwide make when it comes to exotic animal reproduction.
There are two ways zoos can control their animal populations: in the U.S., the method is contraception. Apes take human birth control pills, while other animals eat hormone-spiked food or have slow-releasing hormones implanted in their bodies. The second option, used in European zoos, is to let the animals breed and raise their young, and then euthanize the unneeded offspring.
Birth control is used for more than half of the female Western lowland gorillas held in 50 or so American zoos, according to the New York Times report. (Photo: Peggy Mihelich/AAAS)
It's a shocking idea to many Americans, but European zookeepers argue that euthanasia is the more humane option. It helps control the population and recreate the extremely high mortality rate that most young animals face in the wild. Bengt Holst, director of conservation for the Copenhagen Zoo, explains why euthanizing the offspring of exotic animals helps those creatures retain aspects of their natural behavior:
"We’d rather they have as natural behavior as possible. We have already taken away their predatory and antipredatory behaviors. If we take away their parenting behavior, they have not much left.”
In many European zoos, animals are allowed to raise their young until an age at which they would naturally separate from their parents. If the offspring do not fit into breeding plans for the species, they are euthanized.
For the American public, the more palatable choice is birth control. While it's safe for some, side effects can and do occur. Great apes tolerate birth control pills well, because they are most similar to humans, but some big cats and canines can develop uterine infections or tumors as a result of hormonal birth control implants.
European zoos that use euthanasia for population control cite the health risks of contraception as well as the enrichment of parenting. As Leslie Kaufman in the New York Times puts it, "...in Europe, some zookeepers would rather euthanize unneeded offspring after they mature than deny the animal parents the experience of procreating and nurturing their young."
It cannot be an easy choice for zookeepers, and it is controversial among the public and conservationists. What do you think?
Zookeepers around the world, facing limited capacity and pressure to maintain diverse and
vibrant collections of endangered species, are often choosing between two controversial
methods: birth control and euthanasia.
In the United States, the choice is contraception. Chimps take human birth control pills,
giraffes are served hormones in their feed, and grizzly bears have slow-releasing hormones
implanted in their forelegs. Even small rodents are included.
Cheryl Asa, who directs the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Wildlife Contraception
Center at the St. Louis Zoo, said euthanasia was not a comfortable fit for zoos here. “On an
emotional level, I can’t imagine doing it and I can’t imagine our culture accepting it,” she
Dr. Asa sees contraception as a better approach. “By preventing the birth of animals beyond
carrying capacity,” she said, “more animals can be well cared for.”
But in Europe, some zookeepers would rather euthanize unneeded offspring after they
mature than deny the animal parents the experience of procreating and nurturing their
“We’d rather they have as natural behavior as possible,” said Bengt Holst, director of
conservation for the Copenhagen Zoo. “We have already taken away their predatory and
antipredatory behaviors. If we take away their parenting behavior, they have not much left.”
So he and many of his European counterparts generally allow animals to raise their young
until an age at which they would naturally separate from parents. It is then that zoo officials
euthanize offspring that do not figure in breeding plans.
This spring, the Copenhagen Zoo put down, by lethal injection, two leopard cubs, about 2
years old, whose genes were already overrepresented in the collective zoo population.
Leopards are considered near threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of
Nature. But as part of a breeding plan to maintain the genetic diversity of this species, the
cubs’ fate was determined before they were born.
“We promised the species coordinator that the offspring would never leave the zoo,” Mr.
Holst said, meaning they would not be bred with leopards from other zoos. The Copenhagen
Zoo, he said, annually puts to death some 20 to 30 healthy exotic animals — gazelles,
hippopotamuses, and on rare occasions even chimps. The thinking is that this strategy mimics what would have occurred in the wild, where some 80 percent of feline offspring die from predation, starvation or injury, he said.
Terry Maple, the former director of Zoo Atlanta and co-editor of “Ethics on the Ark,” said
that while he knew of no studies assessing the importance of raising young to animals’ health
or well-being, observation indicated that most zoo animals are motivated and protective
parents that play frequently with offspring.
He acknowledged that American zoos once focused more on the intricacies of breeding