The Giraffe on Your Plate

Millions of people are rightly outraged over the Copenhagen Zoo’s recent killing of Marius, a young giraffe. It is wrong to end the life of any sentient being. But what was done to Marius is just the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of “surplus” animals in zoos are killed every year – either at the zoo or, worse, sent to “canned hunt” facilities where they are hunted down, shot, and killed as trophies.

But, on the heels of the Marius tragedy, I cannot help but bring to light another important point. Giraffes have a close bovine cousin whom we kill and eat by the millions every year – and without a second thought. Those animals are cows.

There are striking parallels between giraffes and cows. Here are just a few of their shared characteristics:

  • They are both even-toed ungulates (two-toed hooved animals).
  • They both have a natural lifespan of about 25 years.
  • Their brains are about the same size relative to their body (with the cow having a slightly larger than average relative brain size).
  • Their brains contain the same emotional processing system found in all mammal brains, including humans.
  • Mother giraffes and cows nurse and nurture their children for months.
  • Both giraffe and cow mothers call their children by bellowing to them.
  • Adult giraffes and cows babysit youngsters who are not their own.
  • Giraffe and cow youngsters “moo” to find their mothers and friends.

There are other similarities, too, between what happened to Marius at a zoo and what happens to all his cousins, the cows in factory farms.

Marius was killed in exactly the same manner (shot in the head with a stun gun) as 39 million cows are killed every year.

There are striking parallels between giraffes and cows.His mother lost her child when he was 18 months old. But it’s even worse for the 9.3 million dairy cows in factory farms who have their babies torn from them just hours after birth.

Marius’s mother is not afforded the decency of being allowed to make choices about her life. She is simply a commodity whose behavior and even reproduction is controlled by humans. And millions of cows in factory farms are also denied the same fundamental consideration: intensively confined, repeatedly impregnated, and bred for high milk production and meat as nothing more than unfeeling objects.

The frequent argument that factory farming is justified because cows, unlike giraffes, are “bred for” our plates is not supportable because domesticated cows still exhibit the same behaviors and characteristics of wild ungulates – as these parallels with giraffes show.

The fact that so many people are angry at the killing of Marius while they’re still quite comfortable eating his close relatives from a factory farm should make us think about the inconsistencies in how we treat animals.

Marius’s death is about much more than the killing of one young giraffe, however sad and shocking that is. It is a reminder of our unjustified prejudice toward another animal who is extremely similar in every way that matters – the “giraffe on your plate.”

3 Replies to “The Giraffe on Your Plate”

  1. This is truly a brutal, barbaric event and according to press reports another giraffe is slated for the same fate and is
    currently on death row at a second Copenhagen zoo. This
    is analogous to Taiji’s insane dolphin slaughter in Japan
    and only strong, massive protests from Danish citizens might
    possibly delay or prevent future animal atrocities such as
    the outrageous one carrierd out at the Copenhagen zoo.

  2. Thank you so much for this great blog. Every day I ask myself how people can love dogs, cats, dolphins and other animals, but allow the brutal killing and horrible treatment of animals for food that we do not need. Your work is extremely important and I cannot thank you enough for standing up for animals.

  3. I agree, powerful article. I believe it is harder for informed people to straddle that line of hypocrisy when the truth is peacefully presented to them; my issue has always been with those who are exposed to the truth about humans V the rights and suffering of non-human animals; particularly those who have the capacity, education and intelligence to access the truth; the excuse is always that the pace of life today gives them no time to change; but we’re all busy and too often it’s easier to blame being busy on the reason people won’t look at the truth, because it means they need to change and change takes time and is evolutionarily scary for us humans. But, as supporters of the fundamental policies that, from what I can see, Kimmela stands for, my opinion is the people we need the most to affect change in making our global population believe in the rights of non-human animals as a default setting, are those millions of people who have access to information and technology, who have the education and who feel guilty when they read this kind of a blog; because they are open and will listen if the information comes at them from a rational, balanced perspective; but once these millions of minds ripe for change see or hear ‘extreme, over-passionate-animal-advocating-tree-huggers’, they’re given an easy excuse to check out again.

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