I’m trying to understand why they killed Marius, the two-year-old giraffe from the Copenhagen Zoo. I am a scientist and veterinarian, and I thought there must be an explanation that makes sense. Maybe the general public wouldn’t understand, but with my extensive training in the ways we exploit, dominate, and kill animals, I believed I could put on my utilitarian, emotionless veterinarian hat and comprehend this tragedy. I thought I could understand why a healthy young giraffe would be killed with a captive bolt (humanely, but horrifically) and then dismembered and fed to lions in front of a large crowd, including small children. But the truth is, I can’t fathom it. The whole thing is grotesque and deeply sad.
Marius was only put in this position because of irresponsible giraffe parenting. The zoo allowed his inbred giraffe parents to have unprotected inbred giraffe sex, just like they would in “nature.” Somehow, allowing this behaviour to go on was more important than surgical sterilization and a responsible breeding program. There is nothing natural about zoo sex. The argument that zoo animals are better off being allowed to reproduce so that they can continue with these natural behaviours is flawed in this unnatural setting. Allowing animals to have zoo sex as a pacifier for the lack of environmental stimulation and inadequate space is a cop-out. Marius was the predictable, inconvenient byproduct of his environment and he was deemed useless as a genetic repository. Then he started getting bigger and he wanted to have inbred giraffe sex of his own. It was basically turning into a giraffe orgy/family reunion in Copenhagen and the only answer to this animal husbandry challenge was to kill Marius? That’s not good enough.
Who gets to decide what Marius is worth? The zoo lost the right to decide this alone when they gave this cute baby giraffe a name, invited us to meet him, and asked us to love him.
His caretakers — and I use this term loosely — decided that Marius’s life was not worth living. They decided that a life without testicles, sex, and baby giraffes would lead to behavioural problems and it would be too hard for them to deal with. They decided that relocating him was not possible. This is because his life was not worth the effort or cost that would be involved in relocation. Who gets to decide what Marius is worth? The zoo lost the right to decide this alone when they gave this cute baby giraffe a name, invited us to meet him, and asked us to love him. Zoos prey on sentimentality when it suits them, but they can’t have it both ways. A zoo is not natural. They can’t pick the natural parts they want, like unplanned reproduction in captivity and occasional giraffe snacks for the lions, and shut down the natural will to live (likely stronger than desire to reproduce) and the need for a meaningful life. Also very natural is the human desire to connect with animals, to observe them, anthropomorphize them, and love them. It is not a switch that can be turned on and off when it is convenient. The decision to cull Marius went from bad to absurd when his dead body became a spectacle for small children. In these images, one small boy pulled his hat over his face to shut out the cruelty in front of him.
How is Marius any different from a beef cow? Cows are bred and raised in captivity and killed in the same fashion as Marius was for meat. Well, one subtle difference is that he is a baby giraffe. He is sacred. It may not be fair or correct to categorize animals as the ones we eat, the ones use for sport, and the ones we love, but we do. Raising giraffes for meat to feed to lions is inefficient and unpalatable. Our society needs this structure to define our relationships with animals. Without it, it would be animal anarchy. If we blur the lines between these categories and view all animals as equal, we would either be in a situation where we are eating our family pets, or where we would have to free all animals that are managed for meat or entertainment. We would have to own up to our cruelty. Marius’s death has forced us to examine our feelings about animals in a graphic way. We have had to dissect our opinions and reexamine our current structure.
Marius’s death has forced us to examine our feelings about animals in a graphic way. We have had to dissect our opinions and reexamine our current structure.
The zoo might also argue that they are the owners and stewards of Marius — that they are responsible for him, which gives them the right to kill him if they choose. But this is exactly the point: the zoo needs to be responsible for the animals that they allow to breed. Marius was brought into the world recklessly. It is inexcusable that they feel that they have the right to remove him with the flip of a captive bolt.
Sarah Boston a renowned veterinary oncologist and the author of Lucky Dog, a hilarious and heartwarming memoir that tells us what we can learn about health care and ourselves from our most beloved pets. She tweets as @DrSarahBoston.