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Last week, a little news item seemed to cause quite some stir. As it was one of the leading articles on the BBC web site, I couldn’t fail to notice it too. There was a warning of watching the accompanying video, as the images could be disturbing:
Warning: The following video contains graphic scene which may cause distress
It was the story of a Danish zoo killing a two year old giraffe and dissecting it in public. While reading the headline, I considered for some time if I should heed the warning and not look at the video. Eventually I decided to do watch it, my thoughts circling around my own maybe contradictory relationship to animals, the fact that I am not a vegetarian, do visit zoos despite a lingering suspicion that some of the criticism posed against them is valid and so on.
I took this news item into my classes last week, and asked my groups, of whom almost all had at least heard of the story, what they thought about the whole case. I myself had come to the conclusion that what I disliked most about the whole affair was the public display, what I called the ‘public execution’ of the giraffe, especially in front of children.
During the course of the week the story changed in details. My initial version was: Danish zoo kills giraffe in front of unsuspecting zoo visitors for reasons relating to zoo breeding programs (genetic diversity the giraffe lacked). The reasons why they didn’t give the giraffe to one of those parks or zoos who had offered to take it were not quite clear to me.
Accepting the realities of zoos’ handling of animals – the rather unsentimental fact that carnivores need to be fed and why not breed your own food – what remained for me was the undignified way they had treated a fellow creature who did not deserve this kind of disrespectful public display of its death.
As I learned during the course of the week, actually as late as Friday, parents had been asked if they wanted to view the slaughter and had had a choice to take their children to the scene.
The zoo argued this event gave them the educational opportunity to teach children the anatomy of a giraffe with the real thing instead of pictures. Well, I personally do not see the educational value of this demonstration and feel that pictures would be just fine had I been a parent who thought knowledge of a giraffe’s anatomy was important.
The whole affair raised a lot of questions about our – humans’ – relationship to animals and got me thinking about a lot of issues. For instance, has our relationship to animals always been emotional, or – if not – when did it start becoming so. What is our natural relationship – if there is any such thing – towards animals.
I thought about what Alan Weisman writes in ‘The World Without Us’: how many animal species have assumedly been killed by humans. How we eat meat, but aren’t able to do the killing and so on.
As a topic it offers a lot for discussion and follow up issues, linking up to our evolutionary past, our ‘human nature’, questions of diet, vegetarianism, veganism, contradictory attitudes and dilemmas in general – in other words: loads.
The other issue I had to think of was how the story had changed during its telling in our discussions as I hadn’t brought any written version. It reminded me of the McDonald’s hot coffee case that comes up every once in a while and always in the same final version of – and I simplify: Stupid woman, who does not know that coffee is hot, sues McDonald’s for millions after spilling the coffee and burning herself. She eventually gets the money because of the strange US product liability laws (punitive damages).
I have taken this case to classes in the past, especially to classes in insurance companies. It is very interesting in that it reveals how we sometimes arrogantly judge matters too quickly, especially in lack of all the details of a case. For more on the McDonald’s hot coffee case see:
See below for a link to the giraffe story where it also seems that the most troubling aspect for many was that it took place in front of an audience.