If you're really saddened by the death of Marius the giraffe, stop visiting zoos

We wouldn't go to a prison to learn about typical human society, so it makes no sense to observe imprisoned animals in order to learn about them

Share

If there had ever been any doubt that zoos serve no purpose beyond incarcerating intelligent animals for profit, the slaughter of Marius, an 18-month-old giraffe, on Sunday has surely settled the issue. Copenhagen Zoo delivered Marius into a life of captivity, allowing his mother to give birth to the calf while knowing that the baby would be “surplus” to its requirements and “useless” for breeding because his genes were too common.

The zoo used the baby calf to attract visitors and then slaughtered him. He was shot rather than given a painless lethal injection, just so that his flesh wouldn't be contaminated when it was cut up in front of horrified schoolchildren and, quite literally, thrown to the lions.

As the events of this weekend illustrate, breeding animals in zoos is not a sustainable practice because of space limitations and also because the practice creates a surplus of unwanted animals. It is estimated that approximately 7,500 animals in European zoos are considered "surplus" at any one time.

While Marius grabbed the headlines, it also emerged that lions were destroyed at Longleat Safari and Adventure Park in Wiltshire, owing to a rise in the population, which had caused "excessive violent behaviour". Anyone who thought the practice of breeding and then killing animals would surely not be sanctioned in the UK should think again. It is absolutely routine for zoos to euthanise newborn males of various breeds because they have nowhere to put them when they mature. Other unwanted animals are sold at auction and carted across the globe.

Zoo breeding programmes serve no conservation purpose because giraffes and other animals born in zoos are rarely, if ever, returned to their natural habitats. They put the "con" in "conservation", and zoos spend millions on keeping animals confined while natural habitats are destroyed and animals are killed, as there is insufficient funding for protection.

When London Zoo spent £5.3 million on a new gorilla enclosure, the chief consultant to the UN Great Apes Survival Partnership said that he was uneasy at the discrepancy between lavish spending at zoos and the scarcity of resources available for conserving threatened species in the wild. "Five million pounds for three gorillas when national parks are seeing that number killed every day for want of some Land Rovers and trained men and anti-poaching patrols. It must be very frustrating for the warden of a national park to see."

Animals in zoos often go insane from the frustration of life in captivity, and visitors leave without having learned anything meaningful about animals' natural behaviour, intelligence or beauty. There is nothing dignified or inspiring about seeing bored and depressed animals. In the wild, gorillas don't eat their own sick and pull out their hair in frustration. Free polar bears don't pace back and forth constantly on concrete. The typical behaviour of captive animals, such as bar-biting, self-mutilation, pacing and rocking, is unheard of among their free relatives.

We wouldn't go to a prison to learn about typical human society, so it makes no sense to observe imprisoned animals in order to learn about them. Today, we have IMAX movies and entire television channels dedicated to showing wildlife documentaries, which serve as virtual field trips and teach generations of children about animals without harming them. We no longer have any excuse for keeping intelligent social animals incarcerated and denying them everything that's natural and important to them.

From the moment he was born, Marius was destined to lead a life of misery at the hands of his human captors. Giraffes rarely die of old age in captivity. Had he not been killed yesterday, he would have spent his short life as an exhibit, stranded in a cold climate, thousands of miles away from his true home. Although his death is heartbreaking, it's his birth that should have been prevented. I wish we could see this kind of outrage every time an animal is born at a zoo.

For everyone who genuinely cares about giraffes and all the other individuals serving life sentences in zoos, let's hope Marius' story is a wake-up call. Let's avoid patronising zoos and instead donate to campaigns that actually protect animals in their native habitats.

Read more:
Marius the giraffe: Don't put sentimentality before good sense

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
 

If Renee Zellweger wants to look different, who are we to question it?

Boyd Tonkin
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker