Zoo’s choice raises questions

Zookeepers and animal lovers worldwide have responded to the recent controversy of the Copenhagen Zoo’s euthanizing of a healthy, 18-month-old giraffe. Shot and autopsied as an educational event for adults and children, it was then fed to tigers.

It is difficult not to feel discomfort at seeing the dissection of such a majestic animal. However, the fact that we are so sensitive to the deaths of certain animals is a sign of our biased affections, especially when compared to the indifference we feel toward killing and eating other animals. Why should a giraffe have more value than the cows that make up our diet?

Traditionally, we assign more value to the animals that we claim need protection – the endangered ones. We have grown up believing that giraffes, like pandas and koalas, are more valuable than others, since they are rare creatures that only exist in a faraway land.

But this giraffe was an exception, because it was neither endangered nor rare. It had brothers with almost identical genetic make-up and its sub-species is not endangered but rather overflowing. Additionally, it is not a wild animal since it was born in the zoo.

Ironically, the very reason they are not endangered is because the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) has kept such careful control of the breeding program. What the American media neglects to note is that the breeding of the giraffe within its own family could cause more harm than the sacrifice of just one giraffe.

In a UK park this week, for example, there was a case in which the breeding of lions within the same family caused bad gene combinations that led to strange, aggressive behavior and forced the park to put down five of its lions.

The Copenhagen Zoo is criticized for not giving or selling the giraffe to a non-EAZA zoo as a last option, but it likely would have ended up sold anyway. Selling an animal would be less ethical than killing it, since it would turn the work into a business instead of a science. Then other zoos would start to pretend to want to kill animals as a way of raising offers and funds.

What perhaps would have been more appropriate (and controversial) is to let the lions kill the giraffe as they would in the wild. Doing so would allow the lions to maintain their predatory instincts and prevent them from becoming domesticated cats, while also giving a more accurate educational lesson than a dissection.

Still, more than a lesson for the kids in how eating happens in the wild, this is a lesson for humanity on the side effects that arise when we try to interfere with nature – even if we do have good intentions.

We as humans must be prepared to deal with the ugly consequences that inevitably arise when we invade the natural state of animals. By pretentiously assuming the role of protector of the animals, we have to make other compromises – and we have to be consistent with these compromises, as the Copenhagen Zoo has proven.

Luisa Andonie is a sophomore majoring in marketing.

February 15, 2014


Luisa Andonie

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