I think I share the opinions of many when I say that there were a few bad decisions made at Copenhagen Zoo over the weekend. When Bengt Hols, the scientific director for the Zoo, made the decision to destroy Marius the 18 month-old healthy giraffe, against a 25,000 worldwide-strong petition, a media frenzy obviously followed suit. I say destroy here because I believe ‘euthanize’ is not contextual. When I think of euthanasia I think of pain and suffering and the alleviation of such, not of a healthy animal being killed for having an undesirable gene pool.
You can read more about the Zoo’s decision here, here and here, but in short the young giraffe, described as ‘surplus,’ was shot dead before being dissected in front of a crowd of children because he was not suitable for breeding due to a ‘well-represented’ gene pool. The decision to kill Marius sparked backlash and debate that quickly escalated globally. In the lead up to the demise of the Giraffe an online petition to save his life quickly collected over 25,000 signatures with outrage being exchanged and shared by the masses. More fuel was added to this inferno when Yorkshire Wildlife Park publicly offered to take in Marius and house him with their other male giraffes, including Marius’s brother who came over from Copenhagen in 2012. Now following the incident, firmly backed by the Zoo, Marius remains have been fed to the Zoo’s Lions and the public continue to rage.
So why has this incident in particular sparked so much controversy? The culling of healthy animals happens daily and The Zoo defends its ultimate decision wholeheartedly, asking if this would really be the center of a media frenzy if it was a pig. Well no it wouldn’t but then it isn’t a pig, it’s a giraffe. The reality of the situation is that in this instance the public identified emotionally with the animal and whilst all animals should be considered equally they just aren’t. I really believe the problem here was not the reasons the Zoo claimed were behind the decision, but the way in which the whole thing was communicated. It is without doubt that the Copenhagen Zoo have a PR crisis on their hands now as they try to sedate a lot of people whose wishes they went against. The incident is still trending on Twitter worldwide more than 24 hours later with many calling for a boycott against Zoos as this opens up the wider debate about keeping and breeding animals in captivity.
Whilst the Zoo is going for consistency in their belief and resolve behind the decision their means of communication have been poor. Deciding to dissect the creature that had captured the hearts of those petitioning to save it LIVE on video stream, in front of children, was probably not one their wisest moments. They quickly gave ammunition to the media in the form of graphic imagery and then continued to defend this poor decision making as educational. Yes just what I missed out on when I was nine years old, a baby giraffe being butchered two feet away. Damn my educational flaws!
They have made a few halfhearted responses to the backlash via social media but damage control seems low on their list of priorities, as does sensitivity. Why should they listen to people in the first place? Because public opinion matters. Because the public are the people who pay to visit their Zoo. Because people care about animal welfare and it is a HUGE topic of controversy. This was an ordeal poorly executed (excuse the irony) from start to finish and it will be something I’ll watch closely over the next few days. It’s interesting to see how similar establishments, such as Dublin Zoo have already issued personal opinions in response to the incident. Meanwhile the Copenhagen Zoo’s Facebook page suffers a avalanche of bad reviews that will dent their online reputation for a long time to come as people share their outrage. The internet is not to be underestimated when people care, and the Copenhagen Zoo signed its Public Relations death wish when it put a name to that cute face.