Letter to the Copenhagen Zoo: Why did you kill Marius?

Marius, prior to being euthanized, Feb. 7, 2014.

I cannot believe that Copenhagen Zoo chose to kill Marius (a young giraffe), for easy compliance with the European Breeding Programme for Giraffes. I hope the Copenhagen Zoo (each and every individual that works for this institution) will reflect on their actions and consider the moral principles that should guide their actions. If the Copenhagen Zoo chooses to reflect on their actions, I am convinced that they will find that they wrongly killed Marius; I expect them to either understand (1) killing Marius is  (or close to) the worst possible option for maximizing the long-term health of the giraffe population, or (2) because simply maximizing the health of the long-term health of the giraffe population is not the single factor for consideration. (I am not an expert in biology readers, so please correct me if there is any suspicion that I am mistaken on anything anywhere)

(1) Killing Marius is (or close to) the worst possible option for maximizing the long-term health of the giraffe population. The Zoo scientific director’s appeal to the long-term health of the giraffe population alone is a weak argument to justify killing Marius. According to the Zoo, Marius is born from inbreeding, or the breeding of close relatives. It seems the concern is that Marius has a higher chance of having biological defects or comparative disadvantages  to giraffes of normal breeding (or in other words, a shortage of genetic diversity), because the offspring of inbreeding has a less diverse gene pool for selection while normal breeding usually involves a more diverse gene pool.

However, these reasons are not sufficient for justifying the killing of Marius. Marius may bear a high genetic resemblance to his parents, but the Zoo provides insufficient evidence that Marius poses a long-term health risk to the giraffe population. First, they should complete a genetic analysis. Second, even if the Zoo has evidence that Marius poses a genetic threat to the giraffes at the Copenhagen Zoo, the Zoo must show evidence that Marius is a genetic threat to other zoos as well, before the Zoo can justify the killing of Marius – especially when other zoos and activist groups are presenting options to take care of Marius, and relieve the Zoo of a long-term health threat.

(2) Simply maximizing the health of the long-term health of the giraffe population is not the single factor for considerations. I do not believe genetic superiority is  the sole aim of the Zoo, nor any social institution. Perhaps, the Zoo wishes to appeal to the belief that the aim of nature is genetic progress and that inbreeding poses a threat to genetic richness, but I cannot see any appeal in this. I think we all have an intuitive notion that one’s genetic make up does not devalue one’s life – not a person’s nor an animal. A better argument from the Zoo is possibly an appeal to the welfare of the giraffe population and that offsprings of inbreeding decreases its welfare, but this does not justify the killing of Marius, because I believe animals have rights to life. Even if the right is not unconditional, it seems the Zoo does not bear sufficient evidence for the killing of Marius.

Please share your opinion on this issue below.

Why do you think killing Marius was right or wrong?

Read more:

BBC News – ‘Surplus’ giraffe put down at Copenhagen Zoo  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26098935

Danish Zoo Kills Healthy Giraffe and Feeds It to Tigers | TIME.com http://world.time.com/2014/02/09/marius-giraffe-copenhagen-zoo/#ixzz2szLHlUSi


The Loss of Christmas Spirit in Gift Card Giving

It’s Christmas again–the season of giving–and we are surely giving more and more. However, I believe many people are slowly forgetting the meaning of Christmas, which of course is not just about receiving, but also not simply about giving. People are forgetting that Christmas is the time to celebrate the virtue of giving–to show that they care.

In the book, What Money Can’t Buy, popular philosopher Michael Sandel sees that we are in a “trend toward the monetization of gifts,” and the “commoditization of social life”.1 Sandel finds more and more people are giving gift cards, instead of giving handpicked gifts (and most have stopped hand-making gifts). People are finding personally picking gifts for their loved ones to be a troublesome experience, and are going straight to the lineup of gift cards. In fact, gift cards are “America’s most popular gift this year.”2

Most_popular_christmas_gifts_2013Sandel points to the market for promoting the efficiency of gift cards. According to economists, gift cards will likely produce less deadweight loss, compared to a handpicked gift.3 The recipient will more likely buy with the gift card something that he or she likes better than the handpicked gift. The market is sending the message that you should be giving gift cards (cash should be better still), because your family and friends will be better satisfied.

Sandel however questions the conclusion of the market, because he argues that the market cannot deal with moral issues. I think most people have not thought about this and have accepted the market’s message. I believe that the market is destroying our Christmas spirit–our concern for family and friends. The virtue of our concern for friends and family should not solely be measured by the amount of satisfaction received by them, but through our intentions and our efforts at fulfilling them.

A gift should show your concern for the recipient and help you build a bond between the two of you. The gift shares the feeling that you have about the gift and the reason why you like the gift and why you think he or she will like the gift. Consequently, the recipient of your gift should understand that there is a bond between the two of you. The recipient will interpret the reason you picked the gift, and why you think its suitable for him or her. As a result, your recipient will have a better understanding of what you think about him or her since your gift reflects your beliefs about your recipient and your concern for your relationship.

A gift card shows you know what sort of things he or she will buy or where he or she will shop. It also shows that you measure your relationship in terms of money. A handpicked gift on the other hand shows your effort in trying to sustain your mutual bond; and the greater care in choosing a gift shows the greater concern for strengthening that bond.

Some people however believe they are being nice giving gift cards, because they are giving a choice. Some kindhearted people are giving gift cards, because they know their recipients will likely complain (openly or silently) or be dissatisfied for receiving anything else. But these supposedly kind individuals are ignoring the problem; their family members or friends are being wrongly demanding. People should not have an expectation for what they receive and their friend or family member should help these people learn that a gift is not necessarily what they want, and what matters is the intent behind the gift and the effort put into it. That’s the Christmas spirit.

The gift of gift cards are making people forget about the importance of gifts and commoditizing our social life. It is slowly causing people to believe that gifts must maximize satisfaction, and ignore that gifts are for building bonds. These bonds should not be measured by money, but the amount of care and concern between two. Gift cards however provide a convenience and promote thoughtless gift giving.

Nevertheless, not all gift cards are bad gifts. A Starbucks card may be a thoughtful gift for someone if you know he or she makes daily visits. Still, there may be better gift: a coffee mug, a coffee maker, or instead, some tea bags. Your gift does not have to fit the recipients usual habits; it could change their habits. In the end, it’s the thought that counts.

1.  Michael J Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy, (New York: Macmillan, 2012), 98.

2. Zoe Fox, “Gift Cards Are the Most Popular Presents for the Holidays,” Mashable, November 27, 2013, http://mashable.com/2013/11/27/popular-gift-cards-/.

3. Michael J Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy, 99-100. See also, Klein, Erza. “An Economist’s Guide to Gift-Giving,” Washington Post, December 25, 2013. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/12/25/an-economists-guide-to-gift-giving/.