In Berlin last spring, a florist sees what she presumes to be a very ugly dog stroll into her shop. She calls the police describing what she rapidly realizes is a wild boar. So the police department called the city hunter…
There’d been a recent pandemic about wild boars rapidly breeding in the well-conserved city parks. If you search on Youtube, you’d see well-watched collections of wild boars leisurely wondering through the hipster central of Kreuzberg. Last year, German newspapers became flooded with weekly reports of people injured by angry wild boars, police chases of wild boars (with the police on the wrong side) and countering the argument, of pensioners insisting on using up their state benefits to feed their friends, at the risk of being fined and persecuted. The city hired professional hunters to control the population, in the density packed area of a summer Berlin.
So by the time the hunter arrived on the scene, curious journalists had arrived, pointing the camera at the city hunter and daring him to be forever known as the ‘animal killer’ hated by Berlin. Hunters had been frequently victimized by animal lovers in the city, having their tyres slashed and physically abused by the residents of the very city they try to serve. The very same city that is reknown for bürgermeisters and currywurst.
The pig was no longer ‘a pig’. The pig was the tear between the city’s identity of a inclusive, disneyfied, urbanite sanctuary with a culturally celebrated cuisine.
In China last summer, the annual badminton competition is put under threat from the mass incineration of poultry due to the bird flu pandemic. This is a natinoal exercise that about 90million people participate in. One can easily understand the badminton communities’ frustration when prices of shuttlecocks increases by 40%, especially when many of the birds killed were on the other side of the country from the bird flu outbreaks and not in direct threat of the infection.
From the perspective of a farmer, you can appreciate the farmer’s perspective. The price of bird feed is a continuous drain. For a large factory it easily costs $5-6000 per day to feed the billion something birds. You want to sell the chicken when they get to about a month to month and a half.
During my conversations with the centre of disease control (CDC), I was surprised to find that pandemics happen all the time. It’s a trade-off for having so many closely-linked species closely packed within such a tiny space. The role of CDC is to restrict the expansion of the disease and more- to constrain the viral spread of hysteria when such news happen.
But who wants to eat animals that might be diseased?? It leaves a funny-taste, a yucky placebo bloating of guilt-ridden factory farm stock in our digestive subconscious. Everyone suddenly starts feeling a bit queezy, a bit ‘funny’, about eating birds.
“Lay off of it for a month or two.”
For the farmer, that month or two costs about $150000 – $300000 in feed alone to keep the birds. Chicken are already one of the cheapest meats anywhere. Chicken farming is not hugely lucrative, even if you lose selling the feathers to a shuttlecock factory it was much cheaper to just incinerate the animals altogether.
The chicken was no longer ‘a chicken. The chicken was the hidden fodder of economy behind our basic nutrition and the once unlimited resource for the national exercise.
In Copenhagen this week, the shooting of a healthy 2 year old giraffe has sparked debates between animal lovers and the animal conservation organisations. Despite the half a million Euros offered death threats and more than 27,000 online petition, the giraffe was euthanised with a bullet to the head in exchange for its favourite food -rye bread. After that the giraffe was publicly dissected to education children about ‘nature’ before being fed to lions and polar bears.
The Copenhagen zoo giraffes are apart of a breeding program within the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, which ensures that the endangered and vulnerable animals bred in captivity have genetic diversity. The animals are therefore screened genetically to be input into the European breeding program. The breeding program had been so successful that there was a surplus. Marius, the unfortunate giraffe, was genetically obsolete.
There were many intriguing proposals along the lines of giraffe contraception or to castrate the un-breed-able male giraffe. I learned that sedating a giraffe for operation was quite dangerous incase it broke its neck in the fall (so much better to shoot it instead). The zoo was making hard ethical decisions. It felt that it had no right to take away an animal’s sexual rights. The institution was having to turn away from the easier choices of sending the giraffe to zoos and conservation parks elsewhere, incase they were less responsible facilities, some even offering to home him in exchange for large sums of money.
“And that’s what we should strive at in the zoos, not to personalize the giraffes or the animals we have, but to make them part of a population. So what we strive at is to ensure the populations for the future, not necessarily all individuals.”
Over the past century zoos have moved from exhibition lands or farms to other, more etherial roles within our cultural fabric. These unpopular, difficult decisions made by the giraffe-killers point to one overlapping echo I’ve been hearing from Paula Antonelle and Hans Ulrich Obrist in the conference world: ‘Curation’. It seems that in the past century this term has sprouted from obscurity into a field where people even “curate Facebook pages”, “curate their kid’s birthday parties”, “curate shopping carts” in an era where we’ve conjured up so much artefacts, data and possibilities that there’s now a real hunger to select, curate, cull. This giraffe seems to be another surplus produce from our industrious maintenance program.
The giraffe was no longer ‘a giraffe’. The giraffe was the gaping consciousness to the decisions made in our curations of the future and the gaps not yet closed with our replication of ‘nature’.