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The Marius Effect: A Giraffe, Food, and Invasive Research

Why did killing a young healthy giraffe in a zoo spark global debate?

"The Marius Effect" and our troubled relationships with other animals

Last weekend a young healthy male giraffe named Marius was killed at the Copenhagen Zoo because he was considered to be a "surplus" animal, worthless because he didn't fit into their breeding program (see also). Zoo administrators justified killing him because of existing regulations controlling inbreeding. Lesley Dickie, the executive director of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), said it was humane and there was no problem at all with killing Marius.

Nonetheless, numerous people around the world were outraged by this heinous murder while countless other "surplus" animals are also killed in this and other zoos. At a talk I gave in Denver, CO the day Marius was killed, a woman told me she had immediately called the Copenhagen Zoo when she learned about this heinous slaughter to voice her protest. I've also had a number of emails with the same message from many people who had never previously gotten involved in "animal activism." 

Why did killing this young healthy and charismatic giraffe generate such global protest—I call this "The Marius Effect"—while at the same time billions of nonhuman animals (animals) are brutally slaughtered on factory farms and millions upon millions of sentient animals are used, harmed, and killed in invasive research? Fellow Psychology Today writer Hal Herzog also considers these sorts of questions in his essays and in his book called Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals as does Psychology Today essayist Melanie Joy in her book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism.

When people say they love animals and harm them, I say, I'm glad they don't love me

Clearly, we have very confused, troubling, conflicting, and paradoxical relationships with other animals. This should be of interest to many Psychology Today readers as well as those interested in the rapidly growing interdisciplinary field called anthrozoology, the study of human-animal relationships. I always say when people tell me they love animals and harm them or allow them to be harmed, I'm glad they don't love me.

Others also wonder about or confused relationships with other animals. Another example of The Marius Effect is an editorial in The Boston Globe by Scot Lehigh called "Killing of giraffe in zoo may bring change". Mr. Lehigh writes, "And yet there remains an uncomfortable tension between what Americans know and think on a personal level about animals and what we allow in terms of public policy. Millions who have pets can attest that animals are affectionate, intelligent, playful, discerning, expressive beings with distinct individual personalities. Still, relatively little headway has been made in changing the cruel, sometimes savage, practices of factory farms."

Why do people, including some of my friends who are outraged by Marius's slaughter, still choose to consume factory farmed animals who are unrelentingly mistreated and brutalized before they are inhumanely killed using the same method (a bolt gun) used on Marius? Why the disconnect?

What about "The Marius Effect" and invasive research on animals?

Last week I received an email message with the following questions (and I'm told it also was sent to others). The questions included: Do we need more invasive research on animal emotions? Would you favor a moratorium on invasive research on animal emotions? Would you favor ending invasive research on animal emotions? Do you think researchers are working hard enough to get the latest scientific information on animal emotions and behaviour incorporated into legislation to protect research (and other) animals (for example, what we now know about pain, joy, and empathy in various rodents and depression/PTSD in many different species)? Should we only allow research that enriches the lives of the animals involved?

When I thought about these extremely challenging questions after Marius was killed and after reading Scot Lehigh's essay I found myself asking why are so many people who are infuriated by the killing of Marius passive about invasive research that is done on animals who we know to be sentient beings, including rodents who are known to laugh, feel joy, and display empathy and who still are not protected by the Federal Animal Welfare Act. Rodents and many millions of other animals who comprise more than 99% of the animals used in invasive research can still be greatly harmed or killed "in the name of science."

The Animal Welfare Act also does not consider them to be "animals". For instance, here is a quote from the federal register: "We are amending the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations to reflect an amendment to the Act's definition of the term animal. The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 amended the definition of animal to specifically exclude birds, rats of the genus Rattus, and mice of the genus Mus, bred for use in research" (Vol. 69, no. 108, 4 June 2004). It may surprise you to learn that birds, rats, and mice are no longer considered animals, but that is the sort of logic that epitomizes federal legislators. Researchers are not allowed to abuse animals, so the definition of animal is simply revised until it refers only to creatures researchers don't need. Garet Lahvis, a behavioral neuroscientist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, correctly notes, "We study animals to see what makes us uniquely human, but the findings of empathy in animals often force uncomfortable questions about how humans treat animals."

It's time to begin to have open discussions about possibly curtailing this sort of research or possibly imposing a moratorium and using the money that is used to support invasive research on these animals to change the Animal Welfare Act to include and to protect them, as are other animals. Their inclusion for protection is long overdue as the data on the emotional lives of rodents, published in prestigious peer-reviewed professional journals, have been around for years. And, let me stress that I did not take the questions that were sent to me to be anti-science (nor did the researcher who sent them to me). It's perfectly acceptable and important to question how and why "science is done." At some point we must use what we know on behalf of the animals who are used in research and other venues. 

Marius take two: Will another Marius be killed in Denmark because he can't be used as a breeding machine? 

As I write this essay the Jyllands Park Zoo in western Denmark is thinking about killing another giraffe also named Marius (see also "'The 'Marius Effect'? First Do No Harm, as Another Giraffe Faces Euthanasia"). The zoo is saying that this giraffe is also useless as a breeding machine, and that it would be difficult to find him a new home.

When are the lies and unnecessary, self-serving killings going to stop? None too soon I'm afraid. Let's hope that "The Marius Effect" will make for a much-needed paradigm shift, much more consistency in how we interact with other animals, and more anthrozoological research. We also need to think deeply about our incredibly self-serving, destructive, and dominating speciesist attitudes and actions. 

Marius's death should not be in vain and clearly numerous people around the world were offended by the zoo's decision to kill him. So, there is hope for change if Marius’s death catalyzes people to speak out about such injustices. “Slacktivism” – talking about doing something but no doing anything about it – will get us nowhere.

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson; see also), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation (see also)and Why dogs hump and bees get depressed (see also).