I don’t like any zoo, but I am especially outraged by the action of the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark on Sunday (February 9). I am hardly alone: More than 27,000 people signed a “save Marius petition,” when the zoo announced that zoo officials intended to kill the adorable and much-loved 18-month old Marius. Many thousands of other people around the world have taken to the Internet to express their sadness, their bewilderment, and their horror at this completely unnecessary, even ghoulish act. It caused revulsion in most people who read about it. It was an execution many noted. The reason the zoo gave for killing Marius struck just about every ordinary person as bizarre: He was killed because his genes were too similar to those of other zoo giraffes in a European breeding program. “He cannot add anything further to the breeding programme that does not already exist,” a European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) spokesman told BBC News. The zoo called him a “surplus” giraffe. If giraffes had human zoos, how many of us would be considered surplus? Or genetically unnecessary?
Yorkshire Wildlife Park in the UK offered to take him in its “state-of-the-art giraffe house” alongside four other males, including one from Copenhagen Zoo, but their offer was refused. A Dutch wildlife park also offered to re-home him, as did a Swedish zoo; a wealthy individual offered 500,000 euros to save his life. Nope, said the officials, he had to be “sacrificed” and skinned, dissected, and fed to lions live on the Internet and in front of spectators at the zoo, including young children, so they could “learn about giraffes.” Moreover Copenhagen Zoo couldn’t send Marius to an institution with “lesser standards of welfare.” Right, that zoo might decide to let him live his full life of 26 years or more.
A veterinarian shot Marius with a rifle as leaned down to munch on rye bread, a favorite snack, being offered by his “trusted” keeper. (I wonder how he will sleep tonight?) It was the first time that the zoo dissected a giraffe: “People are fascinated by it, both adults and children, and they would like to hear stories they normally don’t have access to. I think that’s good. It helps increase the knowledge about animals but also the knowledge about life and death,” said the scientific director of the zoo, Beng Holst. What stories is he talking about? The one where a human executes an innocent animal? What knowledge did it increase? That humans believe they have the right to kill any animal they wish? What was the lesson? The life of a giraffe is cheap? “He was just a giraffe,” after all. Not so. He was a completely unique individual, different than any other giraffe who ever existed, exactly as is a human individual. He had a life history, brief as it was, that was completely his own, as Tom Regan has often reminded us. He was the subject of a truncated biography. The scientific director also announced “If we’re serious about science, we can’t be led by emotion.” Really? Do we actually believe scientists have no emotions and make no decisions based on them? If that is really so, isn’t it sad? And what would it lead to? Well, the decision to kill a perfectly healthy baby giraffe. That’s the outcome when emotions are not involved. Is that something we want to teach our children?
Peter Sandoe, professor of bioethics [sic] at the University of Copenhagen, said he sympathized with the decision to put down the giraffe: “When small children can go and see this giraffe and see it being turned into lion food, it’s a very good picture of what nature is like,” he said. By this logic, small children should also see humans murder one another in war, as it’s a very good picture of what human nature is like.
Look at the bigger picture, said the zoo authorities. (Did Kant not say something important to the effect that the end does not justify the means?).
Many zoo officials in other countries defended the killing by asking how many animals are “euthanized” every day for human food. True, but that is nothing to be proud of, and more and more people are turning vegetarian, even vegan, every day. I just hope this cruel act encourages even more. I also hope it keeps people from visiting zoos. They are nothing but glorified prisons.
If I were a Dane I would never visit the Copenhagen Zoo again. A boycott of the zoo might well be a good lesson for the zoo in human nature: most of us do not like to see an animal murdered by the people who raised him, no matter what excuse they can come up with. Nietzsche once asked if we could regard animals as moral beings. He answered himself: “Do you suppose that animals regard us as moral beings?” Not the ones in the Copenhagen Zoo.