Reflections on a giraffe and animals and humans in general

I have lived in the U.K. for 7 years. But I am Danish. And I have, as most other people, followed the story of Marius the giraffe, and how he ended his days in Copenhagen Zoo. There are many opinions on this subject. From outrage, to understanding, to looking at Copenhagen Zoo as barbaric, twisted killers, that turn children into mass murders.

I love animals. I spend 20 years of my life being a ‘horse-girl’, I used to have tame mice in our garden that I would feed little seeds, and Frida, the dog, was my best friend. Cruelty to animals hurts me. But, at the same time I do eat meat. Not a lot, but a few times a week. And I buy this meat in the supermarket. The chicken fillets, which ones used to be a chicken, probably had a pretty short life, then got killed by a massive machine that kills thousands of other chickens every day. Whichever way we put it, it’s not exactly a fairy tale.

Us humans aren’t the nicest species out there. Far from, we’re probably the worst.  I understand that we like to see ourselves as ‘good people’, but the reality is different whether we like it or not.

When I was a child, maybe around 8-10, we had sheep. And sometimes they would get old, and would have to be put down before they would suffer. My dad let me see it, and I remember it as being very un-dramatic. Because it was not made into a big deal, but a natural end to a useful and good life. They were then made into sausages, and eaten. The wool was given away to anyone who would like it for making hats, scarfs, sweaters, etc.

I don’t agree with the killing of Marius. Maybe there could have been other options, and maybe he could have ended his days naturally. No-one likes an animal being killed, and it makes me sad to see a dead giraffe. But, when we keep animals in captivity, we are already taking on the role as mother nature. I understand how Copenhagen Zoo has taken their responsibility of ensuring a healthy giraffe population in captivity seriously. Anything about a Zoo is unnatural and the natural selection process becomes unnatural too. We decide through breeding programs when new animals come into the world, which genes they carry forward, and when they leave this world – Whether it be giraffes or cats. Once an animal is kept in captivity, it is the human’s sole responsibility, whether it be in a Zoo or a private home. And that includes taking on the role of death too. I think it’s important to somehow try and see this as an investment in the future health of giraffes in Zoos. It doesn’t make it any less sad though, and it would have been great if Marius could have been castrated (maybe not that nice for him) and had a long life somewhere good. I can’t help thinking though, that because Marius was a giraffe, and not a (in some peoples eyes) a less likeable animal like a wild bore, it’s been blown up even more.

 But I do think it’s important to see this story in context. As sad as it is that Marius had to die, what about all the other animals? What about all the animals that die when forests are being cut down every day to provide us with houses and heat? What about the mink that are bred purely for their fur? What about the poor geese, that are born to be force fed until their own legs can’t hold them up anymore, living in such a confined space that they only have minimal movement, in order for them not to loose any of the weight that is being forced on them? Many people in the world still happily eat foie gras, in fact many see it as a delicacy. Now in my mind, that is sick. Although Marius days ended, at least he had a nice life, with space to move, and other giraffes to play with, he didn’t suffer, and his dead provided some lions with dinner. His body wasn’t just discarded, as the minks after they’re skinned. And had he lived in the wild, things would of course have been different, as for any wild animal that lives in a zoo. He was eaten by lions in the end though, which quite likely would have happened if he had lived on an African savanna too.

I do however think that dissecting Marius publicly, and then feeding him to the zoo lions, is okay. I do not get squeamish at the thought of children seeing the realities of nature, in fact, maybe if all those people blaming Copenhagen Zoo for being barbaric and turning children violent had seen something like that themselves when they were small, they would understand that it’s an important education in life. Where do the bacon they eat themselves come from? It does not magically appear on a plate unfortunately. Nature is harsh, life and death is difficult subjects, but, in my opinion, very important parts of education. I have never been shielded from dead pets, and I don’t think i’ve suffered. I went to the vet with my parents when Friday, the dog that was my best friend, got cancer at 6 years old, and was in so much pain that she had to be put down. It’s not the same as Marius, as she was sick, and he was not. But the whole idea of children being exposed to death relates. It is a part of having an animal, and I was taught that responsibility early. Children are naturally curious, about death too. And is it not better discovering it in an undramatic and educational environment, rather than on questionable internet sites? Understanding that nature is not always treating everyone fairly, and that some animals (ourselves included) eat other animals, is part of the process. It’s the circle of life. But we need to show respect for other species, which I do think Copenhagen zoo did. Yes, killing him was unnecessary. But at least it was not a waste. His death was purposeful. And Lions have to eat too, right? If not a giraffe, then a horse, or a cow. Once we put animals in a zoo, the problem starts. We could of course feed carnivores cooked meat (which would still have to come from another animal, which somehow would have to be killed), but that wouldn’t be a very natural way of life for them either, would it? Why do people not get angry about all the cows the lions are fed regularly? Is that because a giraffe is a better animal than a cow? I have a feeling that many people forget that Marius was not a character out of Disney’s madagascar, but a beautiful, real giraffe, with natural instincts, and a place in the hierarchy of ‘who eats who’.  In a zoo or on the savanna.

Compare it to hunting in Africa, killing for trophies on the wall, which lot’s of well educated western people, royalty even, have no problem doing. Or, eggs from caged hen. It’s very easy to distance ourselves from all this cruelty happening, when it’s all neatly packaged on supermarket shelves.

It’s a difficult subject. Animals are our friends, and they should be treated as such. But maybe children need to see something like this sometimes, in order for them to fully understand themselves, how life works, be fascinated with the process, and through all of this gain that respect for animals.

I do sometimes consider going vegetarian. I think I quite easily could, considering the small amounts of meat I actually eat. There are many things around eating meat that I don’t like, but I do understand that it’s natural, and it’s my responsibility to research where the meat I might eat come from, and how that animal lived. Perspective is important before we start judging. Especially looking at ourselves, and our own habits, where the food we eat come from, and how the leather shoes and jackets we buy are made. I have read comment on articles from people, that claim  they will boycott everything Danish. Everyone deals with things differently, and thats absolutely fine. But how will they go about boycotting themselves? Can anyone of us really account for how EVERYTHING we do or buy affects animals? If you can, that’s amazing. But I’m sure it’s less than 1% of the population.

Maybe the real discussion here is whether or not us humans should be having this power over animals in the first place, but I’m not gonna go into that here, because I’ll never be done writing 🙂

From a PR and human point of view, I do think it’s refreshing how open the zoo is about the whole thing, and striving to stay professional and factual. I don’t even dare imagine how many useless animal killings around the world are covered up every day. It has at least provided us all with a chance to think and discuss, while having all the facts available.

Watch the director of Copenhagen Zoo being interviewed by a (in my opinion) rather embarrassing journalist on channel 4 news.

And see this Facebook post for some good arguments and reflections for and against the whole thing.

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