Giraffes aren’t endangered. In fact, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, they’re of least concern. Rare among the exotic animals of the African continent, giraffes have not been hunted to within an inch of distinction and are not used as furniture to better the Feng shui of the houses of luxury collectors around the world. That doesn’t, however, make the cold blooded murder of Marius, a two-year-old giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo any less devastating. The fact is a zoo murdered an animal and there wasn’t a thing anyone could do to stop them.
The flimsy justification offered was that Marius was too closely related to other giraffes in the zoo and consequently endangered the European breeding program. Despite an offer to house Marius at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park with four other male giraffes, the call was ignored and Marius was killed, publicly dissected and then ignominiously fed to lions. It’s not the only avoidable death of a young animal. In October last year London Zoo lost a Tiger Cub because it strayed into the one area not covered by surveillance – a pond – and drowned.
Zoos have an immense amount of power over animals. It’s a power that can theoretically be used for good in preventing the extinction of species who would otherwise have been harried out of existence. Of late, though, zoos seem either negligent or actively counter-acting this aim. The giraffe isn’t an endangered species but imagine if we were discussing a tiger? There are only 4000 tigers left in the wild but if the risk of incestuous breeding were the same then the Danes could kill a tiger for exactly the same reasons they put Marius to death.
In the 21st century the role of the zoo has to change. Originally an extension of the Victorian freak-show, zoos’ exploitative nature cannot carry on. As institutions dedicated to the preservation of species on the brink of being wiped out, they have a place in the modern world. They can’t continue to be places where an animal can be brutally murdered and then butchered for public entertainment. Moreover, zoos cannot be negligent anymore. As much as there is an argument to make enclosures as natural as possible, at the end of the day, the zoo is responsible for animal welfare.
Jyllands Zoo’s plans to kill a second giraffe named Marius have met even more international uproar than the actions of Copenhagen Zoo. Jesper Mohring-Jensen, Jyllands Chief zooligist’s defence hinges upon the professional nature of zoos and the fact that they must advance zoology. He uses the example of inbreeding in White Tiger conservation programs as a justification for murdering the giraffes, since it prevents deformities developing further down the bloodline. His argument ignores the fact that in conserving animals there is also a duty of welfare.
Zoos fundamentally have too much power. As much as there is scientific responsibility to the future of giraffes in Europe, there’s also a welfare duty to animals as a whole that has been ignored. Animals are in zoos’ care and these actions display that zoos need to be more attuned to them, especially where they can prevent abuses happening. Conservation should be the modern zoo’s objective: not exploitation.