Posts Tagged ‘Marius’

“Animal conservation” in zoos is anti-evolutionary and probably immoral

February 27, 2014

The case of Marius the giraffe murdered recently at Copenhagen Zoo has led to more attention to the function of zoos, their supposed “conservation” efforts and their breed-and-cull policies. There is an aura of “goodness” around “animal conservation” which is quite unjustified. As practised today, animal conservation in zoos is anti-evolutionary and borders on the immoral.

I enjoy visiting some zoos (though there are many which are merely collections of psychotic animals) and I enjoyed taking my children to some zoos. It was primarily for entertainment and – as with all entertainment – offered some opportunities for learning. But I cannot subscribe to the politically correct notion that zoos are places where some animal species are being “saved” from extinction. At best they are places where some species, which are on the verge of extinction because they have failed to adapt or evolve to cope with their environments, are frozen into an artificial existence in quite unsuitable habitats for the purpose of entertaining visitors. Such species are not helped to change – genetically or otherwise – to be able to survive by themselves in a changing world. Conservation is taken be a “good thing” but consists only of preserving the animals and their current genes. If left to themselves they would still fail to survive. The animals are bred and over-bred such that healthy specimens must then be culled. That is stagnation not evolution. Zoos are just places for human entertainment and very little else – and there is nothing wrong with that. But they do not deserve any halo of “goodness” for their “conservation”.

To truly help a species to survive requires helping them to breed and evolve such that their survival characteristics are improved. But “conservation” today consists of creating living fossils which are incapable of surviving without human intervention. It is taking a frozen snap-shot of the species and its genes. That is fundamentally anti-evolutionary. I have written on this theme before (Genetic adaptation not stagnating conservation is the way to help threatened species),

Conservation – as stagnation – is not sustainable.  Trying to prevent change is a futile exercise. It is change which is the fundamental characteristic of life. It is managing change and even designing change which is a particular strength of the human species. It is human ingenuity at work. It is time to give thought to how we can help the species around us evolve into the neo-species which can cope with the changes which are inevitable.

This BBC article today only reinforces my view that so-called “animal conservation” in zoos is just show business and has nothing whatever to do with helping endangered species to survive.

How many healthy animals do zoos put down?

When Copenhagen Zoo put down a healthy male giraffe earlier this month, much of the world was horrified. But those in the know say it’s quite normal – a fate that befalls thousands of zoo animals across Europe every year. ….. 

It’s often hard to get any information, but the 340 zoos that belong to the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) must sign up to the organisation’s various breeding programmes, and for each species in the programme there is a studbook – a kind of inventory which records every animal’s birth, genetic make-up, and death.

EAZA does not publish these records or advertise the number of healthy animals that have been culled, but executive director Dr Leslie Dickie estimates that somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 animals are “management-euthanised” in European zoos in any given year. …… 

…….. Four German zookeepers were also prosecuted in 2010 for culling three tiger cubs at Magdeburg Zoo “without reasonable cause” (though the EAZA judged the step “entirely reasonable and scientifically valid“). ….

… The EAZA Yearbook 2007/2008 (the latest publicly available edition) states clearly that a “breed and cull” policy should be followed for some animals, like the pygmy hippopotamus.

Surpluses are a problem with a number of species, including monkeys and baboons, it notes. ….

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Copenhagen Zoo’s justifications for killing Marius if applied to humans

February 12, 2014

Copenhagen Zoo has been marshalling support on the scientific and the ethical plane to try and justify their decision to kill Marius the healthy giraffe. They protest too much and it is a revealing exercise to apply their argumentation to humans.

Their basic theme is that He died so that others could live

Capital punishment could be applied for all humans convicted of murder or  causing a fatal accident or whose genes are defective in any way so that others may live. In current Danish politics, the wrong skin colour in a human is indicative of defective genes.

Culling is for the greater good of the giraffes

The man who pulled the trigger, the zoo’s own veterinarian Mads Frost Bertelsen, says that a very positive situation lies behind the Zoo’s action. 

”Up until now, we have not had to cull the giraffes. But now we have reached the point where the population is doing so well that a giraffe like Marius could not be relocated. Then the best solution is to put him down,” says Mads Frost Bertelsen.

The vet explains that a central European coordinator keeps track of pedigrees, and which genes are represented by individual giraffes in European zoos. The coordinator estimated from these data that Marius’ genes were already well represented and recommended that Marius was killed to protect the population best suited to the gene pool.

But now we have reached the point where the human population is doing so well in so many countries. Many individuals cannot be relocated. From East Europe or Africa to Europe for example. Then the best solution is to put them down, especially if their genes are already well represented. Something like the policy China had. Enforced abortion for all children after the first. 

The right time for Marius to die

Marius was allowed to live for one and a half years, then that was it. At that age he can, according to Bertelsen, be described as a ‘teenager’. It was an age when his father had also started roughing him up.

“In the wild he would leave the herd. If he were lucky, he would meet and join up with other young male giraffes. If he were  unlucky, he would be killed by lions,” says Mads Frost Bertelsen, explaining that it was not unnatural for Marius to die young.

In fact, the young male giraffes are most at risk of being killed and eaten on the savannah, because they do not have the protection of the herd when they are looking for females to mate.

If contraception or abortion are not permitted then the individual can be allowed to live for a while and put down just before it reaches child-bearing age. Lions and other carnivores could soon develop a liking for human flesh.

How to lead a natural life in the zoo

The Copenhagen Zoo lets the animals breed because one of the biggest challenges of keeping animals in captivity is that they are bored. …… a great activity for the captive animals is to find a partner, nest, have offspring, feed an raise their offspring, and finally spend energy on throwing the kids out.

“The side effect is that we have a surplus of animals. It is in fact fortunate that we can use them as food. Instead of killing 20 goats or a cow, we can use the giraffe,” says Mads Frost Bertelsen. ….. 

“Our function is not to keep the individual animal alive, but to keep the species alive,” says the Jens Sigsgaard and continues:

“We have decided that even if an animal is over-represented in the gene pool, we will let it breed and have as normal a life as possible. We prefer to kill ‘surplus animals’ rather than send them to zoos we cannot approve.”

For defective humans or humans of low intelligence, breeding could be encouraged as an antidote to boredom. Surplus individuals produced by such breeding can always then be culled and used as food. They should be killed rather than being sent to countries unwilling to accept them or to countries which cannot be approved.

The adult animals breed – the young must die

Aalborg Zoo has several arguments for allowing animals to breed, even if it may result in too many babies. …. “The animals are allowed to breed because it is an important part of their natural behavior to have offspring and experience the process of taking care of the them. Looking after the young is one of the best and most natural ways to occupy animals in captivity, In the wild there comes a time when the baby is old enough to break away from the mother and maybe become part of another group. That is the time when we try to find another well-suited zoo for it. If that is not possible, the young animal must be put down,” ”says Jens Sigsgaard. 

The animals can also be adversely affected if they are not allowed to breed and have offspring. They may find it difficult ever to start breeding again. And if there are no kids in the flock, the younger animals will not get the experience of what it is like to care for babies. 

The humans with the defective genes are allowed to breed as part of their natural behaviour. But when any young individual is old enough to break away from the mother we can try and find a new location for the individual. If that is not possible then it must be put down.

It is not the killing of an animal that is the problem; it is allowing the individual to be bred with the intention of killing it (and where the feeding of the carcass to lions is only incidental). And there is a difference in the breeding of mice for the purpose of being fed to snakes.

Animals are kept captive and alive in zoos just for gawking at. Once upon a time we did that with human “freaks”. I would like to think that we are more “civilised” now where I take “civilised” to be elegance in behaviour. The behaviour of Copenhagen Zoo with Marius was particularly inelegant.

The fundamental issue is that Copenhagen Zoo – like all zoos – are places for human entertainment.  They fool themselves – and others – into thinking that they are performing a scientific or conservation function – but that is just twaddle. (That is also the fundamental flaw in the conservation of species in zoos where – instead of trying to get the species to adapt genetically – the zoos try to “freeze” the animals genetically in a frozen and artificially maintained habitat).

There is something lacking in the ethics of Copenhagen Zoo – and all zoos for that matter.


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