Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Death of a Giraffe

by Sherry F. Colb

On Sunday, February 9, the Copenhagen Zoo put to death a young, healthy giraffe named Marius, in front of a crowd of onlookers that included children.  The zoo decided to kill Marius because he was not “suitable” for breeding, since his genes were too common in the giraffe population.  After he was slaughtered, Marius’s body was dissected in front of the same crowd that had watched him die, a spectacle of which the zoo spokesperson reportedly declared that he was “proud,” because the children had the opportunity for a “huge understanding of the anatomy of a giraffe.”

The slaughter of Marius, a gentle young animal, was not – as some described it – “euthanasia.”  Euthanasia literally means a “good death” and refers to occasions when we kill someone for his or her own good.  The zoo, however, killed Marius despite his own good, because he was not going to be a useful conduit of giraffe DNA.  Indeed, the Director of Research and Conservation at the zoo, Bengt Holst, was reported to have rejected an offer of space at another zoo, because such space should be reserved for “a genetically more important” giraffe.

Some zoos, of course, might have found an alternative to slaughtering a healthy giraffe, such as castration.  Nonetheless, it is useful to note that this event highlights a truth about all zoos, not only the Copenhagen Zoo.  Zoos regard their animals primarily (and sometimes exclusively) as natural resources to be utilized, as mere exemplars of their DNA to be mined for more exemplars and for entertainment value.  In zoos, animals who normally range over huge distances are confined to enclosures that are pale reflections of the native environments of these living beings. 

In this case, Marius was “unsuitable” for breeding, so he was instead slaughtered, a process that – like the exhibits of captive animals at zoos, aquaria, and marine parks – was touted as “educational” for children.  As ethologist Dr. Jonathan Balcombe has said, however, such displays effectively, if unwittingly, “teach” children and others that  animals’ lives matter only insofar as they serve human purposes.  This is a familiar lesson of disregard for the inherent worth of animals, as we learn it at the grocery store as well – where the corpses and bodily secretions of innocent, young animals kept in captivity and then trucked to a terrifying slaughter  are on sale by the pound, by the quart, and by the dozen.

Many are rightly outraged by what happened to Marius.  He was not a thing – a container of DNA – to be destroyed when he proved no longer useful to his owners.  But Marius’s death ought to inspire more than simple condemnation of the Copenhagen Zoo.  Perhaps his death will not have been in vain if it inspires people who are outraged on his behalf to reconsider their daily choices as consumers.  As we rightly criticize the Copenhagen Zoo for treating a living, feeling animal as a thing, let us stop doing the same by paying for the slaughter of other beings, less visible but no less worthy than Marius the sweet young giraffe.

7 comments:

pvine said...

Yes. Not only was this slaughter sad beyond words. It was morally repugnant. "We can judge the heart (or lack thereof) of a man by his treatment of animals."

Please keep speaking on behalf of those living, breathing, creatures that can't speak for themselves!

Paul Scott said...

The issues surrounding Marius are far more complex than most people give them credit. Sherry's post quickly and simply explains why. If you reject the idea that animals are here for our amusement, then the issue is simple, though it goes far beyond the death of one animal.

If you generally think that Humans have a morally superior position entitling them to complete subjugation of all other creatures , then things get more complex.

One easy argument/rationale is clearly false. As Sherry notes, the Zoo's purported explanation - genetics - was not the reason to kill Marius. The reason they killed Marius was, simply put, money. If genetics was the issue, then they just need to prevent Marius from breeding and sterilization is an easy way to make that happen. Unfortunately for the Zoo, sterilization leaves them with an animal they now need to care for. So to save themselves some money they killed him.

Most of the other reasons given - most having to do with the inability to trust other zoos or that they considered those zoos a worse fate than death for Marius - ring true. But, again, only because we accept that it is ok to have entertainment facilities called zoos in the first place.

Likewise to the other "positive" things being said - 1. the necropsy was educational, 2. the lions got to eat a more natural food, 3. the Zoo serves the interest of wild giraffe preservation through its genetics program...

These are all more or less true, but only if you start by assuming all animals are ours to do with as we see fit.

Joe said...

The "positive" things arguably might be acceptable if they don't violate the rights of animals even if we cannot simply do to them "as we see fit." There might be some sort of burden that has to be met first.

For instance, if the killing of the giraffe was useful to the lion, it is not merely for human pleasure. Likewise, furthering the interests of wild giraffe preservation.

But, if animals have interests, harm to them merely having some value is not enough on its own. It has to be on balance justified. So, in certain cases, killing a rabid animal might be appropriate.

The OP promotes an "inherent worth" argument. This is a case where environmentalists, animal welfarists and animal rights groups can clash even though in many cases they agree.

Individual worth, e.g., requires respect of each human, they are not supposed to be treated as means for the good of society. Even that would be more than treating them like playthings.

Bill Walton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill Walton said...

As Sherry notes, the Zoo's purported explanation - genetics - was not the reason to kill Marius. The reason they killed Marius was, simply put, money. If genetics was the issue, then they just need to prevent Marius from breeding and sterilization is an easy way to make that happen. Unfortunately for the Zoo, sterilization leaves them with an animal they now need to care for. So to save themselves some money they killed him.League of Legends boosting
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aminos lahragui said...


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