The news that a baby giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo has been shot dead has provoked a storm of worldwide protest. Wildlife enthusiasts are described as 'saddened', animal rights campaigners are furious and petitions are flying around social media demanding the zoo's closure. But not me.
Faced with the photos of this beautiful, perfectly healthy baby moments before its death it is easy to see why its deliberate killing would seem cruel and unnecessary. It is even harder to come to terms with when you know its death was not through want of a home, numerous offers to adopt Marius were turned down. So I know this will generate howls of outrage and highly charged emotions. And I admit that it will be difficult for people to see me as an animal lover but, I have to say, I welcome the death of baby Marius.
I've always maintained that individual freedom transcends all other values and that applies to animals every bit as much as for humans. In saying that, I'm not suggesting that an animal's right to freedom is the same as a human's but I do have this sense that the impetus to be free is natural for all living things. It is also part of being alive and possessing a life- it is instinctive to want to do it 'your way'. That applies to every living being, be it you or I, a hen, a lobster or a giraffe. We all possess an innate urge to choose our own paths to happiness. For wild animals, this means enabling them to fulfill their own natural behaviours and live on their terms, not ours.
But all this is denied for the countless animals shackled by chains or imprisoned behind bars in zoos across the world. Thousands of miles away from his natural home and a prisoner from the moment he was born poor little Marius faced a lifetime of physical and mental suffering. Caged in a tiny space all his life Marius would have become so frustrated and bored he would be driven to abnormal stereotypical behaviours so frequently seen among wild animals held unnaturally in confinement. Freedom is a prerequisite for living yet zoos deny their captives everything that it is to be alive and in possession of a life. Marius deserved more than this.
To me, no matter how much zoos tout their mantras of 'conservation' on signs festooned across reinforced six foot barbed wire fencing and no matter what a fine job of 'educating' our children they insist goes on inside cages of steel bars, the deprivation of freedom cannot be justified. A prison is no life for a giraffe that longs to roam, travel in large herds and browse on the highest twigs.
Sadly, conservation by cage is failing not only its inmates but wild populations of endangered species too. Marius was considered 'surplus' and his genes were of no benefit even to struggling wild giraffe populations. But what zoos do succeed in is a roaring trade thanks to the commodification of these animals. While indeed you cannot buy freedom you can pay for it at the turnstile. At a cost of 160 Danish Krone (that's around £18) you can buy a ticket to Copenhagen Zoo and a day out being amused by the shadows of depressed and humiliated beings is all yours.
The biggest lesson I have learnt as an animal lover was one my pet rabbit taught me at the age of six. I remember pleading through sobs to save this ancient, buck toothed lop eared bunny who'd already had far more than his nine lives, if rabbits have that many. But it was all about my wishes and not Snowy's. Owners of any animal will come to know when it is in the best interests of the animal to bring its life to an end, and that continuing the suffering is too much to put the poor creature through, even if it means it makes us cry.
Not to want to see Marius killed is ultimately to want to see him live a lifetime of suffering and imprisonment. Those protestors are as guilty of animal cruelty as the zoo keepers themselves who deny animals their fundamental right and exploit them for human pleasure. The only difference is they've become the ones championing their imprisonment and are denying them the most basic freedom of all.
And so to the baby giraffe of Copenhagen Zoo whose remains now lie strewn around the lion cage with a bullet hole through his head: freedom is worth dying for.