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Marius the Giraffe & Marius the Giraffe, Denmark

It was upsetting last weekend to learn that a healthy young giraffe was going to killed at Copenhagen Zoo, simply because his genes were well-represented in the breeding pool and if he lived, inter-breeding would potentially affect the health of any offspring, or offspring of offspring, in the future. At least, that’s what I think the zoo where saying.

This gave rise to lots of questions about why the zoo allowed the giraffes to breed at all, if this were a likely outcome, as well as lots of others to do with sensibilities about the public nature of the death and autopsy, before parts of the giraffe were fed to the lions. I wrote to the Danish Embassy in the UK to raise some of these questions and I was sent a link to this statement, in English, from the zoo.

Today, the Telegraph runs a piece about another Danish zoo, Jyllands Park Zoo, which also has two male giraffes, a younger one called Elmer and Marius aged 7. It is the latter who may soon become superfluous to requirements. The zoo plan to get a female giraffe and can’t have two males with one female as there ‘would be fights.’ The link to the Telegraph piece is here, but please be aware it contains a picture of the dead giraffe in Copenhagen.

There are it seems a number of ways to manage the problems of zoo populations. Some zoos don’t breed, the Danish ones do, but then cull the animals that aren’t required. I realise that the case of Marius upset my sensibilities, but it is a symptom of the real problem, not the cause. When Copenhagen said they were going to autopsy parts of Marius to gain more knowledge about giraffes, I just thought… how pointless. We don’t need more knowledge about the biology of giraffes, interesting though it may be to certain scientists. What we need are good solutions to pollution and poverty and war and disease and although I appreciate some scientists study animals for the latter, I am not sure giraffe study forms a useful part of that process. As it happens I am against animal testing full stop. I am also against humans manipulating animals in manmade environments for their own amusement or edification.

And then I realise I run into difficult territory because I am not a vegetarian. You see, although I detest what I perceive as animal cruelty I don’t know exactly where I personally draw the line. I do know I try to eat free range products, and I do know as I get older I am enjoying meat less and less. I don’t like fish, and on the odd occasion I have eaten farmed salmon I thought it was the most disgusting flabby fatty product I had ever tasted. I imagined all the fish packed tightly into tanks without room to swim up wild streams and develop any sort of muscle tone at all. The life the animal or fish leads is definitely there in the meat we eat and if I end up mainly vegetarian in time, I wouldn’t be too surprised.

Still, this doesn’t help Marius I, or Marius II. From a scientific point of view it’s hard to be offended by the Copenhagen Zoo statement, As a human, a member of one species sharing the same home with other species, I don’t really understand why a zoo needs to keep, let alone breed giraffes (or any other animal come to that). The statement from Copenhagen Zoo does not address that fundamental issue at all, rather it seeks to rationalise a system that I find indefensible.

(The obvious picture to add here is one of a giraffe, you know, a close up of those inquisitive and limpid brown eyes with long lashes, but frankly to do so would chip my old heart even more than it is already – and at the moment it feels like a knackered and cracked, leaky old teapot).