Marius, the giraffe
(image by The Guardian/Keld Navntoft/AFP/Getty Images)
By Bob Gaydos
They killed a giraffe in Denmark Sunday. Executed him, actually, with a bolt gun, at the Copenhagen Zoo. Then they performed an autopsy and butchered his body while an announcer explained what was happening to a crowd of onlookers that included lots of wide-eyed, young children.
Finally, they fed the carcass to the lions and tigers.
The Romans couldn't have made more of a spectacle of it.
The giraffe, Marius, was two years old and, apparently, in the best of health. He posed no known threat to any other living creature. His "crime," according to the two men responsible for killing him, was that he was too normal. The product of a breeding program at the zoo, Marius was apparently unfortunate enough to possess the type of genes that the scientists said were already well-represented in the zoo's giraffe population. Allowing him to continue as part of the breeding program would not be good for the giraffe population as a whole, they said. He was surplus material.
Bam! Bye,bye, Marius.
There's more. Copenhagen Zoo officials had an offer from Yorkshire Wildlife Park in Britain to take Marius off their hands. The British zoo is part of the same breeding program as the Copenhagen Zoo and has a state-of-the-art giraffe program. In fact, Marius' older brother lives there. But Copenhagen Zoo officials didn't even bother to answer the British zoo's inquiries, saying they felt Marius and his surplus genes would also be taking up valuable space in the British zoo's program. The offer of a private individual to buy Marius for $680,000 and place him in a wildlife preserve was also ignored.
One more thing. When word of Marius' impending execution was revealed, more than 20,000 people signed online petitions to find him another home rather than kill him. Rather than discuss the matter with animal rights activists who organized the petition, zoo officials moved up the execution without telling anyone.
There is so much wrong with this story, it's hard to know where to start.
Let's go with the arrogance that permeates this entire affair. First of all, giraffes are not considered to be an endangered species and the zoo scientists acknowledge the animals breed well. So why the breeding program in the first place? If the species is taking care of its diversity on its own, why do humans have to meddle in the process? Because we know better what's good for them? Breeding a giraffe in captivity and then killing that same giraffe two years later because he possessed no special genetic makeup (Oops! We made a mistake.) hardly suggests a higher order of thinking. Callous disregard for life, yes. Enlightenment, no.
To then insist that the pubic butchering of the animal and feeding him to the lions was a scientifically and culturally valuable experience for the young children who watched is utter nonsense and reeks of a desperate attempt to justify the act. I have no idea what was going on in the minds of parents who allowed their young children to be subjected to this abuse, but this was not "natural" as zoo officials insisted. This was a man-made spectacle. In nature, Marius would at least have had a chance to evade his predators. Zoo officials lured him with a piece of rye bread before they shot him in the head.
As for moving up the execution when public protests grew, the haste with which the zoo, not only killed Marius, but got rid of his remains, might suggest to a suspicious person a sense of urgency to get rid of the evidence. Of what, I have no idea, because I'm not schooled in what zoos might do to their animals.
Which leads me to the bigger point here and perhaps the only good news to come from Marius' untimely demise: It raises an awareness of the need to find out what exactly does go on in zoos and whether they are really necessary -- in any way -- for the benefit of animals, as opposed to entertainment of humans.
Copenhagen Zoo officials said such killings are routine in zoos, to preserve and protect the animals. Or perhaps, to balance the zoo's budget? After all, zoos are limited in space as well as funds. Today's cute giraffe baby can easily become tomorrow's surplus mouth to feed in such conditions. How routine is this culling of zoo populations? Who decides? What are the regulations or guidelines?
Animals also obviously get bored being confined in zoos or even safari parks. And exploitation and abuse of animals is not unknown, especially in zoos lacking oversight by outside agencies. But Marius was killed in a respected zoo in a major European capital in a country with a reputation for progressive thinking. And he was the byproduct of a breeding program to which zoos throughout Europe subscribe and whose scientists endorsed the execution of Marius, the innocent.
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