A petition came forward, filled with 26, 000 signatures from all around the world. One private investor even made an offer of 600,000 Euros in an effort to tip the scales in the animals favour. Not to mention, at least four other offers from safari parks and zoos in Europe came in before a team of scientists euthanized Marius’ the giraffe with a butcher’s bolt gun, and publicly dissected the animal in front of a class of school children. Three weeks later, the same zoo euthanized two male cubs and their aging pride leaders to make way for a new male and new life. For the price of only one giraffe and four lions, The European Association of Zoo’s and Aquaria (EAZA) will maintain a successful captivity breeding project for nearly 2 million people that visit the Copenhagen zoo each year to enjoy the sight of beautiful, healthy exotic wildlife that they would otherwise be unable to see.
So, what are we all crying about? What do we think those numbers would be if the zoo didn’t care so much about the health of its animals, and started parading around three legged giraffes or one eyed lion cubs with respiratory complications due to inbreeding? Would we all be as comfortable visiting and paying to see a spectacle so unnatural and quite frankly, and ugly? Of course, the answer is no. This is why we’ve seen a decline in the acceptability of traveling animal circuses. It is also why we know that the zoo’s strict adherence to international laws and regulations, and in addition going above and beyond by agreeing to participate in an ethical project with the EAZA is not what has upset people. We are all uncomfortable with being reminded of the costs of our comforts; uncomfortable with being confronted with systemic, soft violence. We are often too emotional to think rationally and before you know it, a sensationalized and vulgarized media frenzy masks intellectual, responsible discourse. This piece is not in defense of commerce, capital and by association, the zoo. I think animals are best left in what little wildlife there is left to die natural deaths. Yet, I recognized that this 21st century of ours is no utopia. There is nothing idealistic about it, and that image I have in my head of natural spaces and a golden idea of natural ways of living is not reality- and however tragic, will very likely not be for our children. We are doing ourselves a disservice by pretending these types of decisions do not need to be made every day.
Euthanasia, like abortion is sometimes humane given the circumstances and alternatives. In this world we have zoos, we have poverty, war, human trafficking and every other type of uncomfortable evil that we systematically try our best not to pay attention to. It isn’t helpful to keep coming up with the same old regurgitated responses, which lead to no resolve such as, “we shouldn’t have zoos” or, “that doesn’t make it right”. Oh, the sound of the violin chorus that runs through my mind when I hear these arguments; perfectly valid, but equally useless. Sensationalized accounts are all we heard on that day. Since then, however, rational minded people such as acclaimed bio-ethical professor, Peter Sandoe of Copenhagen University, are thankfully theorizing about what is actually good for the giraffe, and not what makes the public most comfortable. In response to outcry and a suggestion to have the giraffe sterilized instead of euthanized, under the assumption that this is a more humane practice, Professor Sandoe responds, “You’re already taking away a lot of the natural behavior by putting them behind a fence … If you take away their ability to procreate, you are taking away even more of their natural life.” In other words, because we already have the fence and the giraffe has already been domesticated, death is actually more humane. Moreover, Sandoe thinks that, “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 … On the savannah, many will die young, killed by lions, killed by diseases, killed by accidents, by lack of food.”
It is something important to think about. Shouldn’t we be providing our children with an authentic representation of wildlife rather than merely filtering them through the same desensitized, romantic accounts of life that got us into this mess in the first place? Their deaths are tragic, but saying something is tragic does not relieve you of the responsibility of having to make a decision on how to deal with the tragedy. Given the circumstances the zoo’s actions were, not right or wrong, just or unjust but instead ethical. These useless binary conceptions we have of cold, scientific practice vs. warm blooded humanity are not helpful to truly come to agreement on the intrinsic value of life given our current circumstances. Until we come to that agreement, decisions like this one will still need to be made, and it isn’t ethical to expect life to fall by the wayside because we are uncomfortable.
Image License: Some rights reserved by Steven Milchem.