After the horrific death of Marius the giraffe earlier this week, other zoos have come forward to reveal that they too practice the culling of unwanted animals. This highlights the darker side of zoo practises, which seems to be more in line with the 18th century freak shows where patrons to stare at curiosities who perform regular shows in captivity. Prominent former zoo owner Damian Aspinall has even suggested that zoos should be phased out in the next 20-30 years.
Marius, a young giraffe formerly of the Copenhagen Zoo, was put to death earlier this week with a bolt in his brain. He was not sick, aged or infirm, but simply surplus to the zoo’s requirements. Petitions were held to keep him alive with other zoos opening their doors to take him, but it was all in vain. Questions were asked about why the zoo would allow his birth if he was known to be a surplus animal and the breeding of animals in captivity is strictly regulated. This reveals the sad truth. Humans love babies. Baby rhinos, baby lions, baby giraffes. The birth of a new baby animal generates a huge amount of revenue. Not only in the live product itself, but merchandise, photo ops and general publicity. But what happens when that baby animal leaves its cute stage behind? That was Marius’ fate. But it could be worse.
Since his death, it has been revealed that up to 30 animals are killed in captivity yearly. The zoos themselves cite lack of space or the possibility of inbreeding as reasons for euthanizing the animals. This dark side shows that although zoos are often thought of as a place for where endangered animals can live in relative freedom, but more often than not, this just is not the case. Marius comes from the giraffe species Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata, known to be in vast numbers in the wild and therefore not an endangered species. Up to 80 percent of zoo animals are not endangered. The emphasis on zoos as safe havens for animals close to extinction is mostly fictitious. Zoos regularly get rid of their animals either through euthanasia, or trading with other zoos, but they also sell animals to hunting lodges or to road shows.
Damian Aspinall was born into zoo life. His father John Aspinall owned Howletts Zoo and Port Lympne Zoo in Kent, England. Howletts Zoo had begun as a private zoo in his own backyard. Damien Aspinall is known as a songwriter, English casino owner and an aspiring conservationist. He recently released nine gorillas into the wild in Gabon and described the moment as “beautiful.” Aspinall claims that zoos are keeping animals in prisons with no hope of parole. He says that the idea that zoos release animals back into the wild is ludicrous. He does not see education as a factor either. The fact that animals are made to perform in shows makes him feel ill, but he says that humans are addicted to watching animals perform. Rather than giving in to this, he believes that zoos should focus on what is best for the animals. He has been campaigning for more money to be spent on keeping animals in the wild, rather than enclosures. He believes that zoos should be phased out, or refocussed on caring for those animals who are actually near extinction.
Elsewhere it has also been argued that there should be a boycott on zoos. Rather than visiting upset animals behind bars, they can be seen in documentaries in the wild. Places like IMAX allow for a larger than life experience. The behaviour of animals in captivity does not represent their behaviour in the wild. It has been argued that in the wild you would not see animals pacing up and down, wearing away the grass under their feet in one sad strip, or pulling out their own fur and rocking back and forth. From the 1600s to the early 1800s it was considered quite normal for people to go to the Bethlem Hospital (known as Bedlam) in London to look at those persons declared mentally insane. Nowadays such a practise is seen as criminally wrong and inhuman. So too are the travelling freak shows who exploited those born with deformities. Just how will future generations regard the practise of keeping wild animals in cages? The reveal of the dark side of zoo practises demonstrates a lack of focus on the animals themselves, rather the parks are driven by monetary means. This new information that has come to light needs to result in a change of perspective, both for those running zoos around the world and what visitors expect to see.
By Sara Watson