BOSSES at Edinburgh Zoo have admitted they might have to cull three endangered piglets, just months after two others were killed because there was a "surplus" of the species.
• Sammi and Becca, pictured with mother Bella, were put to sleep by the zoo
The trio of baby Red River Hog piglets, named Ellis, Nelson and Moses, will follow in the footsteps of brother Sammi and sister Becca if a worldwide breeding programme orders them to be put to sleep.
The zoo works closely with the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), which recommends that animals be culled rather than rehomed if the species does not have a breeding recommendation.
Today, campaigners called for zoo bosses to search for any possible alternative to culling, and said the issue raised questions about the real value of the breeding programme.
The Evening News revealed that Sammi and Becca were culled last year because they were "surplus to requirement", despite being the first pair of Red River Hogs born in the zoo's history.
In 2009, when the pair were born, it had been recommended to Edinburgh Zoo that it did not breed the Red River Hogs. It is unknown as to whether the same recommendation was made last June when Ellis, Moses and Nelson arrived.
One zoo insider said: "I wouldn't be surprised if they were culled. Many zoos and animal organisations around the world adhere to the breeding programme and more animals are put down than you think. It would be a bit stupid if the zoo didn't learn their lesson.
"You have to wonder why three healthy animals can't be rehomed and if the zoo know there's a good chance they'll have to be killed, why let them breed in the first place? It is not something all staff agree with."
Libby Anderson, policy director for animal protection charity One Kind, said: "Zoos look at animals in terms of managing collections, but each animal is an individual and I don't think they can possibly justify killing these three baby hogs simply because they are deemed surplus to the requirements of a breeding programme.
"We would urge the zoo to tell the public the truth about these breeding programmes and their actual contribution to helping endangered species survive in their native habitats."
A spokeswoman for the zoo pointed out that the zoo had to go by the breeding programme's recommendations. She said: "It is imperative that the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland complies with the recommendations that are given.
"The welfare of our animals is extremely important to us and while we cannot replace their habitat in the wild, we can ensure the animals in our collection lead as natural a life as possible. For this reason, we do not prevent our Red River Hogs from breeding in the zoo."
She added that rehoming the piglets was "not down" to the zoo, and that where they go and if they are bred is down to the stud book keeper.
Red River Hogs Hamish and Bella bred for the second time in June last year, a few months after the first babies were culled.