The internet is lighting up with outrage today upon news that the Copenhagen Zoo – a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) – have publicly staged the killing, dissection and lion feeding of a young giraffe named Marius which they had declared “surplus.” The 18 month old giraffe was approaching maturity and the Zoo claimed that he was excess as his breeding would have complicated blood lines at the zoo.
Within a short period of time a petition circulated with over 25,000 signatures, international media coverage erupted and there are reports of last ditch efforts by other zoos to offer re location. Other simple options – like neutering Marius – were deemed “inhumane” by the Copenhagen Zoo who in that situation would have had to feed and shelter an animal that could not grow their “stock.”
News of Marius’s death travelled fast via social media with a wide array of photos depicting the various stages of his death – from the bolt gun used to kill him, an audience being led through his dissection and his carcass being fed to lions at the zoo. All of the photos disturbing in how the audience normalizes and calmly snaps cell phone pictures what they are watching – including young children.
Some detractors have tried to push back against this outrage by shifting goalposts to make the killing appear inevitable – stating that lions would kill giraffes in the wild, or that this should be thought of as no different than any other animal slaughter (cows, pigs, chickens). Both points carry some truth, but only when argued from the realization that all of these animals have their entire lives controlled by humans. In the wild Marius would have a social community, and the ability to access skills to retreat. In captivity – this decision – as with his birth, was all made for him. That this zoo was able to monetize his birth, as well as his death, is the crux of outrage for many. SImilarly, claiming that this practice is justifiable, or inevitable, as we treat other animal species the same way in greater numbers only speaks to the size and scale of animal use. A kind of tautology – this circular logic leads us nowhere. Two wrongs simply cannot make a right.
The timing of the slaughter comes at an unfortunate time for WAZA – an organization currently embattled in controversy over it’s economic support for wild capture and the Taiji dolphin hunt in Japan. In absurd fashion, WAZA recently released a statement trying to distance itself from that hunt although the captive animal industry, and the price paid for captive dolphins, continues to drive the practice. The veil of “conservation and education” is quickly being lifted and WAZA is struggling to respond. Marius’s death, which advocates have already tied to WAZA, will escalate this. The individual stories of “Angel” the albino dolphin and Marius the giraffe won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
The most important point to remember though is that all of these situations are avoidable. They are problems which we constructed and they are problems which we can dismantle. Although the pictures out of Copenhagen are chilling – they point to the social dynamic of accepting these practices as normal, educational, or inevitable. One comment I’ve seen online called it “the circle of life” – the attempt to shroud a completely unnatural and controlled process as “natural.” It is anything but. We have a responsibility to protest if we want to change that.
@dylanxpowell / firstname.lastname@example.org