Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Sunday, February 16, 2014


I love Giraffes. We all love them: their big soft eyes, their improbable physiques, their quirky but undeniable grace. So it was no big surprise to hear the uproar when the Copenhagen Zoo killed a two-year old male Giraffe last Sunday and fed him to their lions. Nobody likes to see the life of a beautiful, exotic animal extinguished, and the natural reaction to hearing of this being done by a zoo (which is supposed to be a sanctuary for creatures, right?) is indignation at the least. But the basic reason for this giraffe's death stems from that basic love of ours for the animals. Few things draw visitors through the gates of a zoo like a baby Giraffe, so there's a strong financial incentive to produce a young one every year, whether you have any idea what you're going to do with it once it's grown up or not. So there's been an overabundance of zoo giraffes for a number of years. Some of these animals end up in private collections, or in places like “Dave's Roadside Zoo and Front-end Alignments,” or who knows where. Surely, many of them are relegated to lives of malnutrition and misery, and my guess is that less public Giraffe euthenizations are not unprecedented. The Copenhagen Zoo had a couple of offers from individuals and an unaccredited zoo in Sweden, but rather than accepting one of those they chose to kill their surplus Giraffe using a captive bolt stunner, the same way that cattle are slaughtered. I understand the anger at hearing this news, but I don't share a bit of it.

What I don't understand was the equal furor over the necropsy the zoo performed on the young Giraffe, and the fact that they allowed the public, including school children, to watch the process and ask questions about it. Most kids in the industrialized world grow up completely separated from normal ecological processes, from truly understanding how energy circulates through an ecosystem from one organism to another. The idea that sheltering children from this reality and preventing them from fully understanding the world is to their benefit, well, that's pretty hard to fathom. Besides, anyone who didn't want to see the necropsy didn't have to walk through the door. To me, the fact that the zoo put the meat to good use and used the necropsy to advance public education put a distinctly positive overall face on this sad but unavoidable event.

This blog's server doesn't have the capacity to list all the animal species that have been saved from extinction by captive breeding in zoos. We can only speculate at what future good will come from the breeding technology and understanding that continues to be developed in zoos around the world, not to mention their educational role (which I just did). Where you have life you have death, that's as true in a zoo as anywhere else. I, for one, am thankful to live in a world with zoos and am happy to appreciate all the good they do while accepting the less pretty realities that go along with them.
illustration: FLAP-NECKED CHAMELEON & GIRAFFE (2002) acrylic on illustration board 30” x 20”