End of a giraffe and conservation

Marius, the Giraffe

Over the weekend, a beautiful 18-month old male animal has been killed in Denmark: Marius the giraffe. The zoo where the animal was born explained why: to avoid inbreeding. Other zoos offered to take the animal to save its life but the zoo refused their offer, arguing it would still risk future inbreeding as the animal's genes are already widespread among other giraffes in European zoos. And a second may follow his fate. I don't agree and will argue why.

Thus, it seems that we have reached a point that, after some conservationist groups, also zoos think they have to kill animals to preserve them. Because, in order to preserve animals, zoos exchange animals for breeding. As a result, almost all species involved in breeding schemes in zoos will probably be related with each other. And thus these schemes may result in more animals being killed to avoid inbreeding until happens what is happening in the wild: only a few if any may be left.

Breeding schemes exist to maintain animal levels in zoos. Another reason is to prevent that endangered species disappears (it seems most giraffe subspecies are not yet endangered). Thus breeding animals is necessary for zoos.

Giraffe in London Zoo who could have been killed if its genes were too similar to others or if the wrong age (i.e. too young).
If the possibility of inbreeding needed to be avoided at all cost (indeed, too much inbreeding will result in animals that are too similar and thus more vulnerable to diseases or to inherit genetic defects), then Marius could have been released in Africa so it could mate with other unrelated giraffes. If he would not be able to survive in the wild, he would have been food for other animals such as lions, thus feeding wild lions while indirectly saving the lives of other herbivores; the lions at the zoo would still get their meat from animals we would anyway have slaughtered at abattoirs. If his release in nature would have gone wrong, then we could have learned from our failure to release a (large) in captivity-born animal so that future releases can become more successful. The slaughter was made even worse because children were allowed to watch the animal's destruction and its feeding to lions. Whoever defends this destruction can't convince me when zoos claim to have breeding programs to save species and then rather destroy animals than release them in nature (probably too expensive).

And thus, if a zoo is surprised that people are angry when a zoo decides to destroy one of its animals simply because the animal can't be used for breeding reasons (although they probably waited to kill him to earn money when he was young), certainly when other zoos offered to save the animal, then I wonder who should be surprised that people are angry when animals are killed. Hunters? Here a summary why I can't agree with his destruction:

  • A zoo should be the first place that tries to prevent the killing of animals, certainly when other zoos offer a solution. The animal trusted its keepers and thus it didn't expect that the offer of some food would be its death (in the wild, giraffes never trust lions). Only during adverse situation (for instance, food shortages or overpopulation or disease) and when animals can't be moved to another zoo, only then should a zoo consider to kill animals (used in breeding schemes to preserve species).
  • The role of a zoo is to stimulate the love for animals, not to teach children that killing is part of animal life; they will learn soon enough that most animals are only born to be food. It is almost as in the "Hunger Games": tell children that killing a giraffe (animal) is not a problem and don't be surprised they may kill giraffes (animals) as adults. The way the zoo defended the killing and feeding of the animal in front of children showed it was simply a managerial decision, taken without any respect for the animal.
  • Why did the zoo have the animal as the zoo selected the parents and thus knew in advance that the animal would have been genetically quite similar with other giraffes and thus not worth breeding. The zoo could have searched longer for other parents. In addition, the zoo admits Marius was not particular inbred nor had any identifiable health problems. Thus, a healthy animal was killed to avoid an ill animal may be born. Setting up an experiment needs thinking in advance to avoid having to destroy a mistake (in this case, kill an animal). Thus, let us hope all zoos will learn from this and think in future before placing two animals together to breed. Further, every animal born can be male and thus killed.

Some say we defend the giraffe because he was beautiful and had a name while we don't care about laboratory mice who are nameless. This is simply no longer true. Scientists have to justify the numbers of animals they think they need for their research (I too killed many animals for research (rats, mice, frogs, two guinea-pigs and (the since recently in nature extinct) axolotls) although I never liked killing them). It simply is no longer allowed to breed thousands of mice if only a few are needed while today laboratory animals need to be treated as humane as possible (even if they are only mice) because it is no longer acceptable to mistreat and kill thousands of animals for no reason. Thus, scientists have to think in advance about the numbers of animals needed to get results. Thus, certainly in the case of a zoo (also a scientific institution), one would expect great care is taken before two animals are placed together for breeding so that errors should not be destroyed. Some scientists now even talk like religious fundamentalists when they say that contraception is not a solution and the death of an animal is preferred. A sterile animal will be more than happy it is alive. An example: many cats are sterilised to control their numbers and thus can live.

I wonder if we have reached that moment in time where animals are destroyed both in nature and in captivity so that in the end we only have the survival of a few animals of each species as described in the Biblical story of the flooding. Because to me, the Ark of Noah was nothing more than a zoo that released its animals after most animals in the region were killed in wars and natural disasters.

If every zoo starts to reason as the Copenhagen zoo by claiming they have to obey the "European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (Eaza)" rules in such that animals should be killed to prevent them from inbreeding, then many endangered animals should be killed such as panda beers and tigers of which the surviving numbers are so small that each animal will breed at least ones in their life with family members, or the species disappears. Probably most animals in nature do some sort of inbreeding and as a consequence subspecies arise; even humans do as many marry people from their own town and country and thus they are genetically more similar compared to people elsewhere.

It really becomes the Darwinian "struggle for the fittest" gone to the top: only those unrelated and thus with hardly a chance to inherit a genetic disease are allowed to breed so the best animals will be born ... to live and die in a zoo and to have no benefit at all in the future survival of their species. It has become big business to become the proud owner of genetically-different animals while all others are becoming worthless. Will soon a superior (fe)male giraffe be welcomed in the zoo of Copenhagen? And may too different mean animals may refuse to breed?

Nevertheless, ones humans started to conquer the planet, it was destined that the numbers of mammal species would start to decline so that the next generation of species can emerge: robots and related things. Indeed, Artificial Intelligence (AI) starts to emerge and thus one day, robots will become smarter than us and maybe stop our destruction of this planet, on condition we teach our computers to look well after our planet.

Concerning the zoo, maybe its finances should be checked because maybe they killed the animal to feed other animals although this may be unlikely as it seems they even refused an offer of €500,000 by someone who loves animals. On the other hand, the killing may attract large crowds of people who hope to see the next destruction of an animal. After all, at least something happens in this zoo and thus this may result in a larger return than accepting some money.

Preserving species

However, are they prepared to be an example for ordinary people? For instance, are they prepared to stop hunting, even if they only hunt wild pigs in Spain and not endangered animals, certainly because their country was an example to stop hunting? (Of course, conservationists may sometimes have to kill to prevent overpopulation or the spread of diseases although first science should be tried such as in the case of badgers that were killed to stop TB while there were maybe other solutions.) People could have hunted in the past, but asking others to save animals by not hunting means first one has to stop hunting, otherwise one is called a hypocrite and not taken serious.

More importantly, will they be prepared to loose many friends? Because among those who hunt or support hunting are some very wealthy people and aristocrats. Prince Charles should know that over the past decades, each time he spoke about doing something to stop climate change and for animal protection, he was ridiculed and many said royals should keep quiet. So, will the Princes accept less popularity when they call to end the killing of (endangered) animals, not so much from ordinary people (many may praise them for this) but mainly because of decreased popularity amongst some of the wealthy who like to hunt in Africa?

Because they will not be able to allow that the wealthy (including themselves) continue hunting "to save species" while saying that poor people who in many countries hunt to stay alive should stop. Although, in this scenario they may continue having support from the wealthy.

Thus, before asking others to live in a certain way one has to give the example: stop hunting, become vegetarian so animals don't need to be kill, or eat less meat and fish. By showing the example, people may follow if they notice that even Royals are prepared to make sacrifices to save the environment. But when they go hunting and afterwards tell people not to do so, it will alienate them from their people. Similarly, one needs to accept some wind farms in the own backyard before telling others to accept wind energy.

If one wants that others stop hunting, one should first stop hunting or people will resist and fight back, resulting in even more people who will resist while by showing one can change ones own behaviour, others may follow and change their behaviour although there will be always somewho refuse to change.


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