In response to the indignant outrage provoked by his killing of a 2-year-old male giraffe in the care of the Copenhagen Zoo, director Bengt Holst has offered a eugenic rationale. Apparently, Marius was too closely related to other giraffes in captivity in Europe, and therefore would not be useful in the zoo breeding program. Bengt Holst gave this explanation:
"Our giraffes are part of an international breeding program, which has a purpose of ensuring a sound and healthy population of giraffes," Holst told CNN. "It can only be done by matching the genetic composition of the various animals with the available space. ... When giraffes breed as well as they do now, then you will inevitably run into so-called surplus problems now and then."Notice that there is no shortage of giraffes in European zoos. And yet, even though putting Marius to stud would therefore not be necessary anyway, he had to be put to death. He was a "surplus problem." There is, I think, a little more to it than that.
First of all, the manner in which the killing of Marius is being defended is typical of the "groupism" that is such an important part of post-modern leftist ideology. Bengt Holst was acting, according to his own statements, not to take care of an animal entrusted to his care, but to take care of the species, of the group, of the "common good."
Most visitors to western zoos experience the animals they visit as individuals. They perceive that the animals have individual personalities. Indeed, the zoos name the animals in their care, and they often present individual animals to visitors with elaborate presentations concerning this particular animal's habits and behaviors.
It is therefore horrifying to many observers to see that Bengt Holst does not udnerstand that he has any responsibility to the individual animals who trust him and his staff for their safety, feeding, and care. There is an apparent disconnect between the concern for an animal that is shown by providing it with the most appropriate possible enclosure, the most appropriate possible food, the best veterinary care, and even a name, on the one hand, and then killing him in the prime of his life and in full health, because he is a "surplus problem."
This is the same sort of reasoning that will lead to culling human beings in order to preserve the herd. The fact that the lions enjoyed their meal is not really the point. More significantly perhaps, Bengt Holst didn't just want to "euthanize" Marius, he wanted to make as big a show out of it as possible. One of the aspects of this situation that has horrified many observers, is that after having Marius killed with a bolt to the head, Bengt Holst had his carcass butchered in front of children visiting the zoo. This was a deliberate and brutal display of power and control. How did they do it?
According to the zoo's calculations, Marius was of more use to it dead than alive. So, Marius's keeper lured him with a piece of rye bread, his favorite food, into a yard away from the other giraffes, and as he bent down his long neck to take the treat from his keeper's hand, a veterinarian dispatched him with a shot from a bolt gun to his head. Zoo patrons, including children, were then permitted to watch and learn about giraffe anatomy as the vet butchered Marius. "It helps increase the knowledge about animals but also the knowledge about life and death," said Holst about the anatomy lesson. The giraffe's remains were subsequently tossed into the lions' den—which, some have said, would likely have been his fate anyway if Marius had lived in his natural environment, the African savannah.This was a reminder that those who have taken upon themselves the mission of caring for our human community, and who have taken the power to do so, will shed no tears when it becomes "necessary" to rid themselves of a "surplus problem." And the Danish zoo establishment defiantly promises to do it again:
The Danish Jyllands Park Zoo said on Wednesday it might put down one of its giraffes, which by coincidence is also named Marius, just as the giraffe Copenhagen Zoo slaughtered on Sunday to the disgust of animal lovers around the world, according to Danish news agency Ritzau. Staff at Copenhagen Zoo have received death threats after the zoo killed the 18-month-old healthy male giraffe because the animal's genes were already well represented in an international breeding program that aims to maintain a healthy giraffe population in European zoos.
Jyllands Park Zoo in western Denmark might put down its seven-year-old Marius if the zoo manages to acquire a female giraffe, which is most likely, zoo keeper Janni Lojtved Poulsen told Ritzau. The zoo also has a younger male called Elmer. “We can't have two males and one female. Then there will be fights,” Poulsen said. She said that it might be possible to find another place for the giraffe to live, but that the probability is small. Like its namesake in Copenhagen, Jyllands Park Zoo's Marius is considered unsuitable for breeding. “If the breeding program coordinator decides that he should be put down, then that's what we'll do,” Poulsen said.First, they came for the giraffes . . . . There may be another reason, as well. I think Virginia Morrell, writing for the National Geographic, is dead right about this.
Marius was not living in the African savannah. He was living in a zoo, one that asserts that its mission is to be "known and respected for its high standards and quality regarding the keeping of animals," and for its ethics. All of which raises some questions: Why is the zoo breeding reticulated giraffes, when they are not endangered in the wild? And why did they let Marius's parents mate? For answers, you need look no further than the Copenhagen Zoo's Facebook page, where it celebrates the birth of a baby giraffe (possibly Marius) in 2012. Humans, science has shown, are drawn to babies of all kinds; we love the big eyes, the floppy limbs, the fluff and fuzz of infants. Baby leopards, baby pandas, baby elephants ... baby giraffes. They all draw huge, paying crowds to zoos.Baby animals are big money draws for zoos like this one. But when they grow up, baby giraffes aren't so cute anymore. And they have to be fed. So kill them.
Once, on Equatorial Guinea's Bioko Island, a baby tree hyrax (which looks something like a large guinea pig) came bursting out of the bushes—not to get away from a group of us humans, but to seek our care. (Later, we found his dead mother.) If we'd been another kind of primate, we would have eaten the hyrax. Instead, we scooped him up, nursed him as best we could, and took him to a small animal shelter. Of course, humans don't always respond this way to needy, young animals. But we think that is what the people running zoos do.
And so our hearts were broken when we saw the keepers at the Copenhagen Zoo break their trust with Marius. He should never have died so young and at the hands of his caretakers, the very ones who should have done all they could to protect him. Zoos may feel that it is necessary to bill themselves as big players on the conservation stage. But what most of us want to see from zoos and their keepers is compassion for their charges, all of whom live such narrow, corralled lives. If zoos cannot offer this to the Mariuses in their care, they will lose the public's goodwill, and will deservedly find themselves heading toward extinction.If anybody should have been fed to the lions, it wasn't Marius. Some people are angry enough to suggest that it should have been Bengt Holst. After all, at his age, he isn't very useful to the Danish people's breeding program, is he?