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

Tempting as it must have been to win some positive PR, the Copenhagen zoo took the tougher, more responsible course

Share

What an odd and contrary example the country of Denmark offers the rests of us. The Danes are consistently top of the charts in every global happiness survey, and yet are responsible for such scouringly gloomy drama as The Killing, whose producer explained, “It's very sad, it's miserable, it's always raining and Sarah Lund never smiles - but this is Denmark.”

On TV, this weekend Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall told viewers that the Danes had much to teach the rest of the world about how to live together happily. Hours later, a Radio 4 reading of Michael Booth's new book The Nearly Perfect People was scathing about what he called “a frosty, solemn bunch”.

Then there is the story of Marius, the tragic giraffe of Copenhagen.

The press has been predictably outraged by the culling of the giraffe by the local zoo but, as is usual in matters of animal welfare, it has put sentimentality before good sense. In fact, reading of Copenhagen Zoo's grown-up and tough-minded solution to a tricky situation, I find myself inclining to the Fearnley-Whittingstall view of the Danish people.

It was Marius's genetic make-up which was the problem. The gene-pool of giraffes in the European zoo-breeding programme is becoming unhealthily small, causing potential and irreversible health problems.

The solution of a strategic cull may seem harsh - and it bears out the arguments of those of us who think there are far too many zoos and wild animals kept in captivity -  but it is necessary. Tempting as it must have been to win some positive PR by, say, giving Marius to the American billionaire who wanted to keep him in his garden, the zoo took the tougher, more responsible course.

What happened next deserves particular praise. After the giraffe was put down, a group of schoolchildren were invited to watch its body being dissected and then fed to the lions.

That's nature, kids - or at least, it is nature when humans are involved. Rather than kowtowing to the press and following the easy, misleading path of sentimentality, the zoo provided children with a useful lesson about life and death, health and sickness. Photographs of the event show the four and five-year olds looking on with commendable curiosity.

 

If it had all happened in Britain, the media would be awash with rage and anguish. A publicity-hungry Liberal-Democrat would be bleating away on the Today programme, Joanna Lumley would possibly become involved at some point.

Whenever one of these fluffy animal stories hits the headlines - remember Knut, the German polar bear? - the British, who like to think they understand animals, take the stupid, gloopy line. This weekend six lions were reported to have been destroyed at Longleat. Inevitably, media coverage has been suitably outraged and tearful.

Buried deep in the reports was the truth. The lion population at Longleat had become too large. A male adult lion had been seriously injured; others were displaying “excessively violent behaviour”.

As it happens, my family has a better knowledge of this kind of behaviour than most - my Great Uncle Terence was killed by lions - but the fact that animals in the care of humans need to be managed should be obvious to anyone.

Away from these tear-drenched non-stories, there is more probably genuine cruelty to animals in Britain than ever before. Horses, dogs and cats are being abandoned in huge numbers. Farming methods, particularly for poultry, put profit and cheap food before welfare.

Pets are treated like inanimate toys. On reality shows, celebrities are required to eat live creatures for the amusement of a mass audience.

These are not small matters. Our attitude to animals informs so many aspects of our lives - the food we eat, the way we treat tackle the floods, the planning decisions we make rural areas, maybe even how we behave towards one another.

Sad as it was, there was good sense and compassion in this latest Danish killing.

Read more:

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

 

The serious novelist I could see in Les Dawson

The actress Charlotte Dawson faces a tough challenge. She is planning to complete a romantic novel, part-written under a pseudonym by her grandfather Les Dawson. There can have been few people who were quite as desperate to be a serious writer as Dawson was. When I was a publisher, he once sat in my office, a courteous and serious-minded man, discussing his literary plans. I wanted funny books; he longed to write fiction.

Although some of his novels were published, they were a lesson in how different speaking and writing can be. Imagine Les on stage, reading in his mock-serious tones an extract from An Echo of Shadows by Maria Brett-Cooper: “His eyes held her. They were cold pebbles and although he smiled, there was a chill, a malice about his demeanour that frightened her...” It is funny but maybe not obviously romantic. Good luck, Charlotte.

www.terenceblacker.com

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Regional Gas Installation Manager - South East England

£36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Regional Gas Installation Manager is r...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service and Breakdown Engineer - South East

£29000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Service and Brea...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Recruitment Genius: Engineering Manager - Alconbury

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for an Engineering M...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: the old Palace of Westminster; Batman vs Superman; and more Greenery

John Rentoul
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee