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

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Margaret Thatcher resigned on 22nd November 1990  

Nicola Sturgeon's rare achievement

Jane Merrick
An Iraqi security officer guards a church in Bartala, after Mosul fell  

Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

Patrick Cockburn
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin