Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Monday, February 10, 2014

Condemning the Defenceless

"I'm actually proud because I think we have given children a huge understanding of the anatomy of a giraffe that they wouldn't have had from watching a giraffe in a photo."
Tobias Stenbaek Bro, Copenhagen Zoo
Marius, an 18-month-old giraffe, was put down with a bolt gun early on Sunday, zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro confirmed.
KELD NAVNTOFT/AFP/Getty Images    Marius, an 18-month-old giraffe, was put down with a bolt gun early on Sunday, zoo spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro confirmed. 
The enlightened Danes. The zoo's decision allowed Danish parents to treat their children to a very special viewing event. Not the least bit bizarre, nor even macabre, since children's minds are open to curiosity being assuaged in the most peculiar ways, in any event. Residents of Copenhagen were treated to a very special occasion, one that gave parents the opportunity to expose their children to life in the raw, explained as a display of scientific knowledge about animals.

Mind, if those same children visiting the city's zoo were all that curious about giraffes, how they move, what they look like in the flesh, what their habits are, they could have watched any of the then-existing eight giraffes resident in the zoo. What need of mere photos? Evidently what began this little drama, seen as heartbreaking by many animal lovers, is Copenhagen zoo's commitment to 'animal welfare'.

The zoo is a member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria. Their pledge among the Amsterdam-based EAZA organization with its 347 members is vigilance to the responsibility of managing healthy biodiversity. Because among its membership are many large zoos in the capitals of Europe, the EAZA has a great reputation in the conservation of global biodiversity, and its commitment to championing high standards of care and breeding for animals.

That commitment was recently on display. The Copenhagen zoo had advertised its intention to slaughter a healthy two-year old giraffe in an expression of dedication to care and breeding of animals. Because, simply put, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria has valuable standards and they are not to be lightly held.

Most 'responsible' zoos, stated Stenbaek Bro, have membership in this hugely respected organization. And so, in obedience to the philosophical values of the EAZA, the zoo forged ahead with its show-and-tell program. They destroyed the life of the young giraffe named Marius, despite that he was healthy. And as its visitors viewed the process, they skinned and dismembered the young giraffe's corpse, and fed the parts to the zoo's lions.

A healthy young giraffe named Marius lies on the ground after being shot dead at Copenhagen zoo on February 9, 2014 despite an online petition to save it (Scanpix Denmark/AFP, Kasper Palsnov)
Completely merciful, the killing procedure, with the use of a bolt pistol. Before the zoo proceeded with its plans a 20,000-signature petition was presented to its authorizing body. Copenhagen Zoo's scientific director, Bengt Holst, stated the zoo had turned away an offer from Yorkshire Wildlife Park in Britain, another member of EAZA. They refused; Marius' older brother lives there; the park's space should be used to host a "genetically more valuable giraffe".

Rasmus Flindt Pedersen / AP Photo
Rasmus Flindt Pedersen / AP Photo    The carcass of Marius, a male giraffe, is eaten by lions after he was put down in Copenhagen Zoo on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014. 
A private individual had offered to buy the young giraffe for 500,000 euros ($680,000). In all good conscience, however, the zoo was unable to accept the offer for private ownership of two-year-old Marius, because of its commitment to the conservation of global biodiversity. Other zoos also had attempted to intervene to spare the life of Marius.

Stenbaek Bro explained that the philosophy that lies behind EAZA membership is a general agreement that its member zoos understand they don't own the animals in their care. They govern them. And as such the animals cannot be sold to any entity not a part of the organization, nor any that do not engage with the same set of rules.

Now that this is clear, one puzzling little omission raises its querulous head. If the concern relates to Marius' future as a sire, the problem would be readily enough solved with a veterinarian castrating the young male, eliminating the problem if gene-diversification identified as so critical by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria.

Who decided that Marius must die because giraffes with similar genes existed in abundance in the group's breeding program.

If the message to children was animal anatomy and human arrogance, the lesson will not have been lost. Children, quick to emulate their elders, will now feel it is perfectly suitable and appropriate to decide which animals may live and which should be destroyed. Will this teach them compassion and personal responsibility?

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