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.”