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March 27, 2014

Something is Rotten in Denmark

Take a look at two contrasting institutional responses to challenging circumstances with animals, which together give a clear measure of diametrically opposed value systems – one merciful, and the other ruthless.

ARarrival
One of the dogs from Arkansas after arrival, ready to go to a placement partner so that he can find a home.

Yesterday, our HSUS staff greeted at our headquarters outside of Washington more than 55 dogs and an assortment of other creatures that our Animal Rescue Team rescued a month ago from a Jefferson County, Arkansas puppy mill. The dogs were living in filth and squalor, and they had a wide range of problems, including one dog who had lost the use of his lower jaw. We’ve been working hard over the last month to improve the health of these dogs, and yesterday, we handed them over to several of our Emergency Placement Partners after a 700-mile journey in one of our big rigs, for more tender care and then adoption in the weeks ahead. 

Then take a look at Act II at the notorious Copenhagen Denmark Zoo. Act I, involving the killing of a perfectly healthy 18-month giraffe named Marius, provoked widespread global outrage and condemnation not too long ago. The zoo said that it already had sufficient genetic diversity given the captive population of giraffes within European zoos and so officials there decided Marius was expendable - and should be killed. They did kill him and fed him to the lions.

It was not as if they loved the lions so much that they had to feed the big cats fresh meat. Two days ago, this same zoo announced it had killed four lions, including two cubs. Again, officials said they already had enough genetic diversity among captive lions, so these lions were expendable, too. What’s more, they were bringing in a new male lion and worried he’d kill the cubs.

sticklioncub
A lion cub in the wild. Photo by Alamy

“If the Zoo had not made the change in the pride now then we would have risked that the old male would mate with these two females - his own offspring - and thereby give rise to inbreeding,” said a statement from Copenhagen Zoo officials.

Apparently, the memos on the option of sterilizing the big cat, or the other cats in the pride, never made it to them.

When you think of animals as individual beings, with their own lives, you rescue them from crisis and then find a way to give them a good quality of life, as we did with the Arkansas animals. If you treat animals like a bunch of ambulatory exhibits or repositories of DNA, then you have the outcome that played out in Denmark. Sadly this outcome is all too routine in many of the zoos of Europe.

The World Associations of Zoos and Aquariums and other professionals in this field must condemn these unacceptable actions in the zoo community and remind officials like those at the Copenhagen Zoo that individual animals matter. 

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