LettersLetter From Jenny Moxham about the Purpose of Breeding Programmes
Letters From All-Creatures.org and The Mary T. and Frank L. Hoffman Family Foundation

As published in The Star Malaysia
February 17, 2014

What is the aim of a breeding programme?

I REFER to “Zoo kills giraffe to prevent inbreeding” ( The Star, Feb 11) where the killing of a young, healthy giraffe in Copenhagen Zoo last week evoked outrage around the world with animal lovers calling for the firing of the top zookeeper and some even making death threats.

The killing – which some newspapers described as an “execution” – along with the public response, raises a number of issues. The first is with regard to zoos’ breeding programmes.

Zoos constantly seek to justify their existence by telling us they are fulfilling an important role by “conserving endangered species” with their “breeding programmes” but, as we have seen by the killing of Marius the giraffe, zoos’ breeding programmes are certainly not about rehabilitating endangered species to the wild. If they were, Marius could have been returned to Africa to live out his life in his natural habitat as nature intended.

But of course, this is not feasible. For a start, he wouldn’t know how to live by himself in the wild – and who is going to teach him?

So if the aim of breeding programmes is not to rehabilitate animals to the wild, what is it?

Clearly the aim of breeding programmes is simply to breed animals so they can be ogled at a longer time in zoos.

Apart from the fact that most animals wouldn’t know how to survive in the wild – admittedly there are exceptions – very soon there will be no habitat left for them because we are rapidly destroying it.

But zoos have always made me feel uncomfortable because they deprive animals of their freedom and natural way of life.

With no tasks to exercise their intelligence or skills, animals become
depressed and listless and totally dependent on humans.

Some of them go crazy from the boredom, deprivation, frustration and stress. Signs of this are self-mutilation and abnormal repetitive behaviours like pacing up and down or rocking back and forth.

Even though the animals may look physically healthy and well cared for, they are telling us they are suffering from inadequate lives.

An additional cause of stress for zoo animals is the fact that they may be confined in countries which, climate wise, are the total opposite of those in which they have evolved to live.

Each year elephants, giraffes and other animals adapted to the heat are forced to endure freezing winter temperatures in countries such as Russia and Canada where the winter temperature can plummet to -30°C. Likewise, polar bears are forced to bake in our searing 40°C summer temperatures.

The outrage following the killing of this one animal made me think, too, about the tens of thousands of other animals killed each year simply to feed the zoos’ captive carnivores.

Whereas animals killed for food in the wild would have at least enjoyed a natural life, these animals bred specifically for food would have known nothing but deprivation and suffering.

And finally, if we are appalled by the killing of one young healthy giraffe, why are we not appalled by the killing of billions of young, healthy cows and sheep who are “executed” on a daily basis simply to satisfy our taste for flesh?

If there is compassion for Marius, the sweet-faced giraffe who was needlessly robbed of his life, why have we no compassion for these other animals who I have no doubt are equally endearing and certainly, equally deserving of life?

Monbulk, Victoria Australia

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