Over the weekend, awful things happened. That’s not really a remarkable statement, awful things happen all the time. Living in the South West of England, you would be forgiven for thinking I’m talking about the dreadful flooding (and it did strike me this morning that this might be how Atlantis started…). What I’m actually talking about is of a conservation and wildlife theme. The killings of Marius, a perfectly healthy giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo, and six lions at Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire, UK.
First, a little background. Marius was an 18 month old healthy male giraffe born at Copenhagen Zoo who was killed by a bolt through the head and butchered in front of the public, including small children, as an educational event before being fed to the lions (here is an article from the BBC). He was deemed as ‘surplus’, and useless to the breeding programme due to being related to the zoo’s other giraffes.
Longleat Safari Park, the oldest safari park in the UK, announced on Monday that they have killed six of their lions due to ‘odd aggressive behaviour’. One male was mauled and put to sleep to end his suffering. A lioness and her four cubs were killed when the cubs were found to be exhibiting the same neurological disorder that their mother suffered from as a result of poor nutrition from her previous home (Noah’s Ark in Somerset) and inbreeding.
So that’s what happened and there are their reasons. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sit comfortably with me.
When I was growing up, my family had a similar uncomfortable feeling when visiting zoos. So we didn’t go to them very often. When I became an adult, I actively avoided zoos. I moved to Bristol about six years ago and visited Bristol Zoo with my now husband, fully expecting to leave early and never return. I was pleasantly surprised. Bristol Zoo has a very long history and you can see the conservational developments easily when visiting. The old bear pit still stands and now the aquarium, the old small polar bear enclosure is now home to a family of playful seals that just will not stay still and the lions (currently two brothers) have a long maze of an enclosure to play and skulk in.
Zoos have since become a part of our lives. We got engaged at Edinburgh Zoo, married at Bristol Zoo and endeavour to visit zoos and wildlife parks wherever we go, including visiting Longleat every year.
Now, in the space of one weekend, everything has changed.
I understand the reason behind killing the lions at Longleat, what I don’t understand is why the safari park has ended up with so many lions and why those four cubs were even born. I remember, as a student, watching Animal Park and learning all about the animals of Longleat. I distinctly remember the lion keepers saying they gave the lionesses contraceptives to stop pregnancies.
Last summer, when we visited the two lion prides, it struck me how large they had become and how large they would continue to grow as each had youngsters or cubs in their midst.
Longleat have stated that they knew their lioness from Noah’s Ark suffered from malnutrition and a neurological disorder before she came to live at the safari park, so why did they breed from her? Why not put her to sleep then? Or give her contraception and allow her to live out her days?
Yesterday I made the decision never to return to Longleat Safari Park.
Marius, in Copenhagen Zoo, is a similar matter. Other homes were offered to the giraffe including wildlife parks in the UK, but Copenhagen Zoo wouldn’t send him away for fear of him ending up in a circus.
They must have known that they didn’t need any more giraffes from their particular gene pool, likewise they must have known that they couldn’t expand to accommodate the young giraffe. So why continue to breed them? Because the public like baby giraffes? Because the lions needed feeding?
As stated in the BBC article, giraffe contraception is changing, making it easier to administer and less life threatening, however stopping animals from breeding is just another way of controlling them and stopping their natural behaviour. We’ve already put them in a cage, how dare we go so far as to stop them reproducing.
Well, then why can’t we take them out of their cages?
Conservation, and the given reason for zoo existence these days, is about preserving and protecting species of animal and plantlife, and their habitats. Is this defined as keeping animals locked in cages to ‘preserve’ and ‘protect’ them? Or should these conservation movements be working towards re-establishing these endangered species in the wild?
Neither the Longleat lions nor Marius were from endangered species, which begs the question of why the zoo and safari park are breeding them in the first place. Animals should not be kept in cages for our amusement, and if we are to hold them in captivity then it is our responsibility to ensure that they are well cared for, understood and happy. That includes not breeding to surplus.
My faith in zoos has been severely knocked this weekend. Copenhagen has been scratched off my ‘places to visit’ list and we won’t be returning to Longleat. I am greatly saddened that I now find myself looking at my beloved Bristol Zoo with mistrust.
It is time to start looking at those charities that support the reintroduction of animals into the wild and protecting their habitats from the likes of humans.
It is not just my faith in zoos that has been knocked, it is my faith in humankind (such as it is). Once again, I am reminded of all the wrong we do as a species and the beauty that we destroy.
I found this article on CNN fascinating, and it also mentioned things about UK wildlife parks which I wasn’t aware of.