11 Feb 2014
February 11, 2014

ZOO DIS-MEMBERSHIP, ANYONE?

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Above is one of my my daughter’s London Zoo membership card. Now, what’s going on here? Why, it’s two photoshopped pictures of a giraffe. In one image, s/he’s cutely eating a big leaf; in the other, s/he’s going; “hello darlin’, what’s your name then”?  I wonder what the giraffe’s name is – we can be sure it has one. Elish, maybe? According to the London Zoological Society, Elish the giraffe, whom your child can ‘adopt’ for £35, is ‘cheeky’, ‘mischevous’, ‘headstrong’, ‘stubborn’. Sounds like a tricky package, eh? But, hey, she’s still growing up, you see, so she’s also ‘sweet’ and ‘caring’.Well that’s nice.

But why, London Zoo, should my children part with £35 each? I can see that they’ll get a free ticket each to come and visit their new giraffe “friend”. That’s fine, but they’re both members already, plus they have a Blue Peter badges, which you’ve already negotiated free access to, so that’s two annual free passes each. So, they don’t, you know, really need another one.

So what else will my kids get? A certificate, you say? Well, tbh,they’re becoming a bit sceptical about certificates – “‘I mean it’s an ‘all must have prizes’ culture, these days Daddy, innit”, one was saying to me the other day. So, without wishing to sound to mercenary about it, if my children are going to part with £35 each I’d like them to get a proper, meaningful, educational experience out of it. One which will challenge their childish preconceptions about nature, perhaps. One which’ll see them leave the zoo having gained an insight into nature which will hold them in good stead in the months and years to come.

What’s that you say? If my wee girls are’ willing to go to £100 for the ‘Full Red Dismembership’ then you’ll kill Elish then cut her to pieces in front of my their (and one or two others who’ve paid for the privilege’s) eyes. Then you’ll feed Elish to the lions, ensuring that the distinctive hide is fully in view as the cameras click away so that my children can come, in due course, to a fuller understanding of the circle of life?  Super, here’s £200 – perhaps you’ll go to the trouble of killing yourself too, zoo-boy, before entering the food chain in the usual, natural way?

Of course, it was Copenhagen Zoo, and not London Zoo, which personified a healthy baby giraffe and used it as a lure for children’s zoo membership before ‘scientifically’ (er, learn something new, did they?) cutting it up before said children then feeding it to lions (warning – not very nice pics). Here’s the black-shirted, running-on-emotional-empty, science guy from the zoo on Channel 4 News – presenter Matt Frei hardly able to contain himself at the surreality of it all. Science-guy says it just how it is in the wild. Grrr. You what, mate? Giraffes aren’t called ‘Marius’ in the wild, are they? I mean I’m not an expert or anything, but they don’t really speak to each other, you see.  They don’t personify each other because they’re not actually persons. No, you personified it to children to get some cash in. Just like your mates in London – ‘mischievous’, ‘headstrong’.

So it isn’t a giraffe in the wild, is it? It’s another thing, with different rules. But for some reason, it’s only you zoo-volk who don’t quite understand that.

And what of the much-vaunted ‘breeding’ rationale. Well I’m not a scientist but I have checked with one and I understand that giraffes breed very easily and there are 800 giraffes in European zoos alone (which seems like a hell of a lot, to tell you the truth).  Science-guy referred to the European breeding programme for giraffes. So, why does the European breeding programme exist? It turns out it exists to supply zoos with captive giraffes! No kidding! We should tolerate giraffes in zoos because they have the larger purpose not of simple public amusement (long necks, ooooh) but for the important purpose of breeding. And what, bearing in mind the presence of lots of giraffes in the wild, is that purpose? It’s to fill the zoos!

The zoos, including London, have been universal in their support for Copenhagen. Even Yorkshire, mystifyingly, which had offered a home for the now-dead animal but also seems to agree with Copenhagen that moving the animal to Yorkshire would have been the wrong thing to do. And why would that be?

Well, here comes the politics. All zoos, of course, use baby animals to get the kids in but then discard animals when they have no economic value. They mask their Victorian public entertainment purpose with a thin veneer of ‘breeding-science’. But in the UK, zoo-folk know how far the realities of zoo animal husbandly are from pubic opinion. They know why the US goes to a lot of trouble to avoid ‘pieces of giraffe with lions’ pictures. They know that travel and technology should have killed their own livelihoods off years ago and that they’re living on borrowed time. This has all by-passed Cophenhagen, apparently. So Copenhagen, by refusing the Yorkshire lifeline put together by the UK’s zoo-folk, has just hammered a great big nail into the notion of zoos in the 21st century.

Well, good (unintentionally) for Copenhagen.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to keep on killing the occasional thing I eat. I’m going to chat to my kids about the circle of life – they’ll tell me more than I know; I’m going to explain to my kids why cynical zoo-folk personify animals for children, for their own personal interest, and I’m going to cancel our 3 memberships of London Zoological Society. Thanks, zoo-people, and goodbye.

Join me?