The Inconvenient Giraffe – guest post by Sarah Boston

Giraffe - The Wilds - Cumberland, Ohio

“Giraffe – The Wilds – Cumberland, Ohio” by Todd Fowler is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I’m trying to understand why they killed Marius, the two-year-old giraffe from the Copenhagen Zoo. I am a scientist and veterinarian, and I thought there must be an explanation that makes sense. Maybe the general public wouldn’t understand, but with my extensive training in the ways we exploit, dominate, and kill animals, I believed I could put on my utilitarian, emotionless veterinarian hat and comprehend this tragedy. I thought I could understand why a healthy young giraffe would be killed with a captive bolt (humanely, but horrifically) and then dismembered and fed to lions in front of a large crowd, including small children. But the truth is, I can’t fathom it. The whole thing is grotesque and deeply sad.

Marius was only put in this position because of irresponsible giraffe parenting. The zoo allowed his inbred giraffe parents to have unprotected inbred giraffe sex, just like they would in “nature.” Somehow, allowing this behaviour to go on was more important than surgical sterilization and a responsible breeding program. There is nothing natural about zoo sex. The argument that zoo animals are better off being allowed to reproduce so that they can continue with these natural behaviours is flawed in this unnatural setting. Allowing animals to have zoo sex as a pacifier for the lack of environmental stimulation and inadequate space is a cop-out. Marius was the predictable, inconvenient byproduct of his environment and he was deemed useless as a genetic repository. Then he started getting bigger and he wanted to have inbred giraffe sex of his own. It was basically turning into a giraffe orgy/family reunion in Copenhagen and the only answer to this animal husbandry challenge was to kill Marius? That’s not good enough.

Who gets to decide what Marius is worth? The zoo lost the right to decide this alone when they gave this cute baby giraffe a name, invited us to meet him, and asked us to love him.

His caretakers — and I use this term loosely — decided that Marius’s life was not worth living. They decided that a life without testicles, sex, and baby giraffes would lead to behavioural problems and it would be too hard for them to deal with. They decided that relocating him was not possible. This is because his life was not worth the effort or cost that would be involved in relocation. Who gets to decide what Marius is worth? The zoo lost the right to decide this alone when they gave this cute baby giraffe a name, invited us to meet him, and asked us to love him. Zoos prey on sentimentality when it suits them, but they can’t have it both ways. A zoo is not natural. They can’t pick the natural parts they want, like unplanned reproduction in captivity and occasional giraffe snacks for the lions, and shut down the natural will to live (likely stronger than desire to reproduce) and the need for a meaningful life. Also very natural is the human desire to connect with animals, to observe them, anthropomorphize them, and love them. It is not a switch that can be turned on and off when it is convenient. The decision to cull Marius went from bad to absurd when his dead body became a spectacle for small children. In these images, one small boy pulled his hat over his face to shut out the cruelty in front of him.

How is Marius any different from a beef cow? Cows are bred and raised in captivity and killed in the same fashion as Marius was for meat. Well, one subtle difference is that he is a baby giraffe. He is sacred. It may not be fair or correct to categorize animals as the ones we eat, the ones use for sport, and the ones we love, but we do. Raising giraffes for meat to feed to lions is inefficient and unpalatable. Our society needs this structure to define our relationships with animals. Without it, it would be animal anarchy. If we blur the lines between these categories and view all animals as equal, we would either be in a situation where we are eating our family pets, or where we would have to free all animals that are managed for meat or entertainment.  We would have to own up to our cruelty. Marius’s death has forced us to examine our feelings about animals in a graphic way. We have had to dissect our opinions and reexamine our current structure.

Marius’s death has forced us to examine our feelings about animals in a graphic way. We have had to dissect our opinions and reexamine our current structure.

The zoo might also argue that they are the owners and stewards of Marius — that they are responsible for him, which gives them the right to kill him if they choose. But this is exactly the point: the zoo needs to be responsible for the animals that they allow to breed. Marius was brought into the world recklessly. It is inexcusable that they feel that they have the right to remove him with the flip of a captive bolt.


Sarah BostonSarah Boston, DVM, DVSc,
Dipl ACVS, ACVS Founding Fellow of Surgical Oncology

Sarah Boston a renowned veterinary oncologist and the author of Lucky Dog, a hilarious and heartwarming memoir that tells us what we can learn about health care and ourselves from our most beloved pets. She tweets as @DrSarahBoston.

17 thoughts on “The Inconvenient Giraffe – guest post by Sarah Boston

  1. SOME QUESTIONS THAT REQUIRE ANSWERS:

    WHO PLANNED & APPROVED THE DECISION TO BREED THE GENETIC LINE OF GIRAFFE THAT PRODUCED MARIUS??
    MR. BENGT HOLST & THE ZOO VETERINARIAN

    WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY IS IT DAILY / YEAR ROUND WITHIN THE ZOO TO APPROVE TURNOUT SCHEDULES & TURNOUT PARTNERS?
    MR. BENGT HOLST & THE COPENHAGEN ZOO VETERINARIAN

    WHO DECIDED THAT A 2 YR. OLD GIRAFFE WAS NOT CUTE ENOUGH TO ATTRACT CROWDS ANYMORE & WOULD THUS BE EXPENDIBLE AT THIS JUNCTURE?
    MR. BENGT HOLST & THE COPENHAGEN ZOO VETERINARIAN

    WHO DECIDED THAT….. DESPITE….. MULTIPLE OFFERS FROM 2 EUROPEAN ZOOS, 1 ACCREDITED WILDLIFE PARK, ALMOST A MILLION DOLLAR OFFER FROM A PRIVATE DONOR, ATLEAST 2 AMERICAN ZOO OFFERS & A PERSONAL OFFER FOR A HOME FROM JACK HANNA…THAT THE BEST SOLUTION FOR HEALTHY 2 YR. OLD MARIUS WOULD BE A BOLT GUN TO THE BRAIN AND A NECROPSY IN FRONT OF GRAMMAR SCHOOL STUDENTS????
    MR. BENGT HOLST & THE COPENHAGEN ZOO VETERINARIAN

    WHO CREATED THE PROBLEM FROM START TO FINISH??
    MR. BENGT HOLST & COPENHAGEN ZOO VETERINARIAN

    WHO HAS TARNISHED THE IMAGE OF THE COPENHAGEN ZOO WORLDWIDE FOREVER?
    MR. BENGT HOLST & THE COPENHAGEN ZOO VETERINARIAN

    WHO SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE & DISMISSED FROM THEIR POSITIONS IMMEDIATELY FOR THEIR INABILITY FOR RATIONAL THOUGHT PROCESS, SEVERE LACK OF JUDGEMENT & BOLT GUN MURDER OF A RARE EXOTIC SPECIES?

    MR. BENGT HOLST & THE COPENHAGEN ZOO VETERINARIAN

    PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION FOR PROPER ACTION “THE RESIGNATION OF BENGT HOLST”IN THE FACE OF THIS ATROCITY.
    THANK YOU

    • No they couldn’t – Zoo want to be sure that the zoos treat the animals properly and wanted that the only zoo who applied for it should sign a paper saying that they would not sell it to a cirkus or to a tivoli – they would not, and that was the only zoo (Yorkshire) who asked for it. Moreover, a giraffe costs about $30.000 – $120.000 – plus expencies (transporting, vet-examinations etc.), so it is not a cheap animal

      • Many zoo offered to take care. They did not even response. They even rejected the offering half million from Yorkshire. Do you know how much cost for one ticket to watch this horrible show? Probably Holst made more than half million. They said this is about education. Now Marius became the whole world’s sweetheart and Holst became Hitler of our time. For Danes?? They love him.

    • it was not at all an atrocity -it was a necessity – all was done by the book in a humane and scientific manner – all zoos do the same things. People are killing a lots of animals every day: pigs, cows, chicken etc. In England they hunt down rabbits becuase they consider them as pests, The USA kills swans because of the same reason. In France they abuse geese in order to get foi gras and kill frogs in order to eat their legs, In Germany they kill pigs by the dozen, In Australia they also consider rabbits to be pests. And every zoo have predators who do not eat vegetables, but meat – i.e. oxen and cows must be frequently slaughtered – every day children die because of lack of food, because of sickness. In the USA people get killed every day because of weapons, they have death penalties where convicts are put to death with lethal injection or througt gas chambers, and the majority of the population is in favour of the death penalty even if they excecute young people and retarded persons or insane persons – they have to sit on the death row many years before they are sent to the executioner – and now you make a hysterical fuss about ONE lousy giraffe – where are your priorities?

  2. Thankyou writing this blog. It echoes my feelings on those of many others around this horribly sad situation.

    I’m an animal owner (2 ex racing greyhounds) and take my responsibility to them very seriously. I would have thought that so called professionals at a major zoo would have as well, but I guess not.

    That you as a scientist and vet don’t buy into Copenhagen zoo’s PR speak around some twisted version of eugenics is comforting.

    The entire situation is nothing short of a PR disaster for zoo’s and I wonder if there is going to be any formal inquest into this affair. Hopefully other more responsible and ethically operated zoo’s are taking notice of the situation as they are all inevitably going to go under the microscope now.

    There is a petition calling for the research director of Copenhagen zoo’s resignation and it has hit over 120,000 signatures at the time of writing. I hope the zoo’s executive board pull their collective heads out of the sand and face the consequences of their actions.

    • If you think an online petition full of signatures from foreigners will be able to make the scientific director of a not-for-profit Zoo, then you are living in a dreamworld. Petitions didn’t save the giraffe, petitions won’t affect the board of the zoo

      • And who you are to judge and give your verdict?! Just sit in your pajama and warm slippers and care of your own health and wealth, and don’t poison this world even more!!

    • it is all sick. I wish I could do something. Sick man to kill an animal when he had the choice to let it live. sick. And the worst part is he still thinks he is right, still thinks it is ok, and will do it again. What a world….

      Thank you Dr. Boston as Pat said your views and expression are comforting.

      And for any sick freak that wants to defend killing this giraffe – there is no excuse you just sound like a twisted, trouble causing, horrible person.

      “Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character; and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man.”
      –Arthur Schopenhauer

      “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
      –Ghandi

      “I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being.”
      –Abraham Lincoln

  3. Your train of thought requires a stern belief that a long life with half the options is better than a sorry life with every option available.
    As a veterinarian you sometimes have to tell a family that their beloved pet will be in agonising pain for the rest of its life, and it will be more humane to put it down to end is suffering. Please read the rest of my post with that in mind.

    I urge you to read the following links in order to broaden your horizon and perhaps even understand why the giraffe was euthanized. .. and why children were invited (not forced) to watch and learn about a less Disney-fied version of the world we live in.
    An animal under human care -be it a dog, a horse or a giraffe- only have the opportunities that we give them. When presented with the option of allowing an animal to live a long life at the cost of its most basic instinct (to breed) or ending is life in a quick and painless way for the betterment of the species as a whole, Copenhagen zoo chose the latter. The single giraffes survival was not essential for the species and his death freed up room for the other giraffes in the enclosure. But please read the links I have provided as everything is explained by the people involved in the actual decisions

    http://zoo.dk/BesogZoo/Nyhedsarkiv/2014/Februar/Why%20Copenhagen%20Zoo%20euthanized%20a%20giraffe.aspx

    http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/marius-the-giraffe-dont-put-sentimentality-before-good-sense-9119300.html

    http://www.channel4.com/news/giraffe-zoo-chief-i-like-animals-video

    http://edition.cnn.com/2014/02/10/opinion/giraffe-cull-argument-for/

    We may never agree, but I hope you will at least understand

    • as the post stated the bullshit reasons you asked us to “understand” are exactly what the author Dr Boston disproved. I bet you are from Denmark. I read a study that showed how Danish people have evolved in a community sense later than most of the world and so still see killing their animals as acceptable etc. The world disagrees. Hitler believed he was doing a good thing. The truth is it is sick, and Dr. Boston thank you for an expert review. I feel most of the points are obvious, but as a veterinarian your defence has substance. It was all about a lazy zoo director not being bothered to have cost or time to relocate the poor animal.

      I think your point about naming something that you kill is something I had overlooked, it is a very very true point.

      Well said. It is nice to read the truth!

    • Was Mario ill? Was he undevelopped?! What bullshit are you writing?!
      The USA zoo would have bought him!!
      You indeed must be from DK, maybe even the one who did it!!

    • The arguments don’t make any sense, I read your links, the decision was still barbaric, and everyone associated with it is still as vile as they ever were. I just cant understand how you can support that decision, with the litany of feasible alternatives, anyone capable of killing the giraffe, is capable of anything, it illustrates a complete void of humanity or compassion

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