Why Can't We Be Better to Animals?

I'm having a really hard time with the death of the Dallas Zoo's baby giraffe, Kipenzi. Earlier this month, I lugged a video camera out to the zoo, a place I hadn't set foot in since childhood. To my mind, these baby animals were symbols not just of what attracts ooo-and-aahing visitors to this animal museum; these animals were my justification for a zoo's existence. They were examples of conservation efforts, of a controlled preservation of the world we humans are ruining, by our best, but often worst, efforts to create extravagant lives for ourselves.

It was a good thing for the Dallas Zoo to be breeding these endangered animals and educating the public about them. Sure, penguins probably shouldn't live in habitats that only vaguely replicate living in the wild. Sure, the giraffes should have more land to roam. But they don't, and thanks to megalomaniacs like lion-killing dentist Walter J. Palmer, the wilds of Africa aren't safe from human fuck-uppery. Maybe the zoo is the best option. We're going to ruin nature by chopping down trees and driving diesel trucks, so at least here they can be safe, they can be fed and cared for, like the sweet puppy laying by my feet as I type this. 

Then, last night, I get a heartbreaking email from the Dallas Zoo. That lovely little giraffe calf, who millions of people came to love when her birth was live streamed on Animal Planet, had died. Just listen to how cute the press release described the accident:

Keepers were routinely shifting the giraffe herd into their night barn just after 5:30 p.m. when the gangly calf began to scamper about the feeding yard, as she has done since her public debut on May 1. She made a sharp turn and ran into the perimeter edge of the habitat. Preliminary results indicate three broken vertebrae in her neck, and that she died immediately.
Oh, the sadness. I'm not just sad because of the sick irony in best laid efforts of conservation now being the cause of her death, after all would she have met the same fate in a place without a perimeter edge? Then again, would she have even been born? What really breaks my heart, though, is imagining a gangly calf like Kipenzi scampering around the jungles of Africa, only to find herself baited and pounced upon with a crossbow. 

Animals are neither exhibits, nor trophies to be hunted. They are our neighbors. Or at least they were once.

Baby Animals at the Dallas Zoo from Voice Media Group on Vimeo.

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Lauren Smart
Contact: Lauren Smart