Well that was quite the response to my Marius the Giraffe post last week. I’m still catching my breath. My visitor count over three days was 100x my normal numbers. If you were one of those visitors, whether you agreed with me or not, I’m extremely glad you came by.
As well, I appreciate all the comments. As predicted, many people were angry; some even UPPER CASE ANGRY WITH EXCLAMATION MARKS!! But for the most part the comments, while heated, were civil. I’m pleased that I didn’t have to delete any or ban any commenters. What you see there is exactly what came in.
I am going to talk more in another post about how the polemic all-or-nothing stance on animals has affected everything from our diet to wildlife management – sometimes for the good, but often to the detriment of the animals, their caregivers and the public interest.
But today, to wrap up the Marius story for now, here are some links to some of the finer pieces that were written on the subject. What I like about these are the different perspectives the writers took, each one taking the time to understand the issue, think through some of the broader implications, and then presenting their views in a clear and balanced (non-upper-case) way.
Like a careful anatomist, Christy Wilcox on her blog, “Science Sushi” at Discover Blogs, beautifully dissected the issues brought up by this incident, teasing them apart and laying each one out for close inspection. She devotes quite a few column inches to the importance of dissection to her, as a budding scientist, and to scientific education in general.
One of my most vivid memories from that time is of a manatee necropsy. It was fascinating. While so many of their tissues are similar to ours—heart, lungs, muscles—the arrangement, size, and shape are just so… different. Seeing animals firsthand, alive and dead, inspires a deep and lasting appreciation for how incredibly complex and diverse the life on this planet really is in a way that videos and photos simply can’t rival. – Christy Wilcox
Jason Goldman on his Scientific American blog, “The Thoughtful Animal” discusses the difficult ethical dilemma that zoos have to face when balancing animal welfare, species conservation, public perception and bottom line. Goldman does a good job of describing the options that Copenhagen Zoo (or any other zoo) have at their disposal to manage animal populations, and explains the pros and cons of each one.
The reality is that zoos have an obligation to manage their populations as sustainably as possible, and that includes avoiding overpopulation and preventing inbreeding. Zoos operate at what is called “carrying capacity,” which is the upper limit on the number of individual animals for any particular species that a given amount of space can sustain. – Jason Goldman
Robert Young* at Slate, talked about the cultural differences in attitudes to animals and death between the United Kingdom and Denmark.
But the Danes also strongly believe that being a parent is an enriching experience for their animals. The problem is that while it solves one animal welfare problem—the well-being of the breeding adults—it creates a subsequent ethical issue, that of what to do with the “surplus offspring.”
Virginia Morell, in her opinion piece at National Geographic, takes a compassionate and philosophical approach, pointing out that young animals put their trust in human caretakers; at the same time, the public puts their trust in zoos to do what’s best for the animals in their care. In the case of Marius, Morell believes that the Copenhagen Zoo has broken both of those trusts.
And so our hearts were broken when we saw the keepers at the Copenhagen Zoo break their trust with Marius. He should never have died so young and at the hands of his caretakers, the very ones who should have done all they could to protect him. –Virginia Morell
And finally, some highlights from the comments on my previous post:
Echoing Christy Wilcox’s views:
“While we weren’t present at the dissection of the giraffe, we have taken our children (currently 11 and 6) to other ones at the Copenhagen Zoo, as well as a number of other venues. Biology and zoology are refreshingly open and accessible in Denmark and we value the educational opportunity provided by the professional zoologists and vets across the country. The kids – like the thousands of others who have the opportunity to see dissections across the country every year – are always fascinated and we talk about it for a long while afterwards. Kids can never get enough science.” – Mikael Colville-Andersen
Echoing Virginia Morell’s views:
I think the reason people are so outraged by this incident is because of the moral contradictions it demonstrates. For a start people think of Zoo’s as a place where animals are protected….A zoo should have a duty of care to any animals taken from the wild or bred into captivity. — H3nryb3ar
Echoing Jason Goldman and the ethical and practical decisions faced by zoos:
Does anyone really think that the people running the zoo didn’t consider every option carefully, and that you are the first to think, ‘Hey, let’s check with other zoos!’ No zoo, not even all the zoos in the world taken together, has an infinite capacity to house animals, and one does not just walk a giraffe into a van and toddle off down the road to the next wildlife park. – James Bishop
They tried to relocate the animal but no zoos within the program had room. If you actually read why the zoo chose to kill the giraffe and critically think for yourself, you will realize that this was a decent choice – Alicia
On sensationalism in the media:
I do agree it was sensationalised with some very poor reporting – the shotgun and age come to mind – but I think it was need to jolt the awareness of practises which may have been previously acceptable have to now be reviewed. — Val
On the larger picture:
Whilst reassuring people are getting into a twist over one giraffe I would refer them to the issues such as bush meat, over population by humans, destruction of habitat, use of harmful pesticides, and poaching and divert your well meaning energy there. -Vicky G
Conservation of species is about more than just individual animals. They have to look at the herd as a whole and keep diverse genes in the population. -Alicia
*Added the Robert Young piece a few hours after this was originally posted.
Kim, thanks for bringing in complementary dimensions to this story, and particularly for hearing, acknowledging and curating the words of your commenters, who themselves have added importantly to the on-going debate.