Diatribe: If You’re A Giraffe In Denmark You Don’t Want To Be Named Marius.
One of the girls in my high school class had an older sister who was really REALLY into African Violets. The sister practiced selective breeding, grew beautiful and healthy plants that won awards and accolades among those in the African Violet upper crust. My classmate became quite popular when the other students learned that her sister would give away the plants that didn’t quite make the grade and it seemed the poor girl was found carrying a potted plant to school almost every day.
Most of the violets that didn’t make the cut in the selective breeding program were not unceremoniously put to death but went on to enjoy long lives in adoptive homes like that of my grandparents. My grandmother kept two of the violets that somehow possessed undesirable characteristics on the windowsill of her laundry room. It was there that they enjoyed plenty of sunlight and she would see them often enough to remember that they needed to be watered. They bloomed quite often and she had no reason to believe that they were inferior in any way.
There’s no reason to believe the male giraffes in Denmark are inferior, either, but a second one this week may soon be euthanized simply because of his genetic makeup.
Just days after the Copenhagen Zoo killed a perfectly healthy two-year-old male giraffe named Marius to avoid inbreeding, Jyllands Park Zoo announced that it may also have to euthanize one of its male giraffes if a female is brought in to breed. Apparently, both zoos belong to the same giraffe breeding program which means they can’t have too many giraffes with the same genetic makeup.
It’s been decided that the second giraffe, also named Marius, is not useful to the program but is a useful companion to the genetically valuable second giraffe at Jyllands Park Zoo, which is in fact an older brother of the Marius that was killed in Copenhagen.
The story sounds like Jerry Springer: Giraffe Edition or a bad episode of Maury!
The killing, with a shot to the head from a bolt gun, of the first giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo caused outrage and divisions between animal lovers and zoo officials concerned about the genetic diversity of giraffes in the program. Staff at the zoo even received death threats after the event took place.
“Our giraffes are part of an international breeding program, which has a purpose of ensuring a sound and healthy population of giraffes. It can only be done by matching the genetic composition of the various animals with the available space. When giraffes breed as well as they do now, then you will inevitably run into so-called surplus problems now and then.” – Bengt Holst, Scientific Director at the Copenhagen Zoo.
After a necropsy, the first dead Marius was dismembered (in front of an audience that included children) and fed to the zoo’s lions, tigers and leopards. Why the spectacle?
Of course, many are defending the program’s decision to cull the giraffe population and perhaps, from a scientific or zoological perspective, it was the right thing to do. An excellent defense from Lesley Dickie, Executive Director of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria is a particularly well-written rebuttal, but I find the spectacle, the publicity and the lack of shame or pity for the animal … the perception of pride that seems to come from the act … to be extremely unsavory. The fact that a second animal will meet the same fate within such a short time seems reckless.
Maybe this Marius will die quietly in a peaceful paddock and his carcass will be quickly and discreetly recycled behind closed doors rather than on horrid display. To be sure, billions of animals are slaughtered every year (including cattle, hogs, chickens and turkeys) for consumption by humans as food products. This happens, however, without an audience of children and a we-don’t-have-room or we-like-that-one-better explanation. The situation is difficult to understand, for sure, but perhaps we all don’t need to know about it.
My grandmother’s adopted African Violets were allowed to die of old age on that windowsill in her laundry room. It’s too bad the same can’t be said for the Mariuses of the giraffe world.
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