I already didn’t like zoos. Then I read the headline today about the Copenhagen Zoo shooting, skinning, and feeding a two-year-old giraffe to the zoo’s lions and polar bears.
What I found, from an unlikely source (the Associated Press), was actually a very fair account of both the act and its many reactions. Yes, to my own surprise, I wasn’t as outraged as I expected to be, given the headline. But I’m in kind of a steady state of outrage all the time, so it’s safe to say that my baseline is already higher than most people’s.
According to the article, the zoo says it needed to make space and prevent in-breeding, and that predators eat meat, so people should just get over it. I know this explanation sounds glib, but it actually seems like a reasonable response; it’s one that I’ve used myself many times, especially in conversations with vegan friends who have drifted too far into the purity cult (a cult I myself was briefly a member of, so I should know). Animals do die in the wild, and do eat each other. It’s what makes ecosystems sustainable.
If the zoo staff had killed the giraffe, cut it up, and buried it in plastic bags (essentially denying the animal its place in the food chain—like we do to most other living beings), then the killing would truly be senseless—almost as senseless as leaf blowers.
But before you skip down to the comments section and leave me a literary middle finger, I’m going to continue by pointing out that the response to the zoo from animal rights groups was in this case—you guessed it—even more compelling:
EAZA said it supported the zoo’s decision to “humanely put the animal down and believes strongly in the need for genetic and demographic management within animals in human care.”
However, the organization Animal Rights Sweden said the case highlights what it believes zoos do to animals regularly.
“It is no secret that animals are killed when there is no longer space, or if the animals don’t have genes that are interesting enough,” it said in a statement. “The only way to stop this is to not visit zoos.”
“When the cute animal babies that attract visitors grow up, they are not as interesting anymore,” said the organization.
Elisa Allen, spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in the U.K., said Marius’ case should serve as a wake-up call for anyone who “still harbors the illusion that zoos serve any purpose beyond incarcerating intelligent animals for profit.”
She said in a statement, “Giraffes rarely die of old age in captivity, and had Marius not been euthanized today, he would have lived out his short life as a living exhibit, stranded in a cold climate, thousands of miles away from his true home.”
Ding ding ding.
In short: I don’t have a problem with the killing of the giraffe, nor (especially) with feeding it to predators who are also incarcerated. But this killing/public mutilation shouldn’t have ever needed to be carried out in the first place, since the best way to give animals space to prevent in-breeding is to not steal them and put them in boxes in the first place. Call me crazy.
For more on why you shouldn’t visit zoos—or circuses—read Fear of the Animal Planet by Jason Hribal.