Sex at Dawn

Exploring the evolutionary origins of modern sexuality

What's a Giraffe's Life Worth?

Is the outrage over the killing of the zoo giraffe in Denmark justified?

On a recent episode of AC360, Anderson Cooper and his guest, Jack Hanna expressed their outrage over the recent killing of a healthy young giraffe by the directors of a Danish zoo. The case received considerable attention in world media for a few days. The piece was a textbook example of the kind of silliness that results in working from unfounded, unexamined assumptions. While Cooper and Hanna fumed, the Danish zoo director patiently explained—as if speaking to children—that the ethics of European zoos were more oriented toward the quality of the animal's life, while it lived, than to the length of its life.

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Quality over quantity. But Americans often have trouble with this way of looking at life. In the land of "Bigger is Better!", all you can eat buffets, and runaway obesity, quality takes a back seat to quantity. Stupid slogans like "Stay Hungry!", "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead," and "It's Never Enough!" abound, while anti-depressants sell like hotcakes and abuse of prescription pain killers floods this sad land.

The unexamined assumption underlying Cooper and Hanna's idiocy was that death can be avoided. They were shocked that the animal's body was cut up ("In front of children!") and fed to lions. What does Hanna—who was wearing a leather hat for the interview—think lions eat? Tempeh? Kale? And why was the giraffe's death more tragic than that of the cows that are normally fed to those lions? Because it was cuter? 

Come on. Here's the brutal truth: that giraffe's death was more merciful and graceful than most of ours will be. Because of our childish insistance that death can be defeated, most of us will die in pain, lingering in non-death long after our lives have ended. As for me, when my time comes, I'd rather have a bolt to the brain and be fed to the lions. Enlionment, at last!

Christopher Ryan, Ph.D., is co-author of Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality (HarperCollins 2010).

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