The burdens of fame

by on April 8, 2008 at 8:01 pm in Current Affairs | Permalink

Germany’s celebrity polar bear Knut has triggered a new controversy
by fishing out 10 live carp from his moat and killing them in front of
visitors.  Critics say Berlin Zoo should not have put live fish inside Knut’s enclosure…The Frankfurter Allgemeine news website reports that Knut "senselessly
murdered the carp", fishing them out, playing with them and then
leaving the remains.

And it seems that the Green Party has complained.  Um….HE’S A POLAR BEAR!

Addendum: The story is here.  You can survey the German-language press here.  The FAZ article is here.  While I can imagine valid criticisms of zoos, this is not one of them.  It also should be noted that Knut’s normal diet does not consist of tofu.

Backpacking Dad April 8, 2008 at 9:29 pm

From the snippet you quoted it doesn’t sound like Knut is eating those carp.

So, to figure out what’s really at issue, let’s switch up the example a bit:

Knut fishes live calves out of his moat and kills them without eating them, leaving the remains behind.

In this example it seems intuitive that the problem is that the zoo is putting a non-dietary, victim animal in proximity to Knut and permitting him to kill them. That the animal in this case is a calf does not play a role in determining whether or not the actions of the zoo administrators is wrong (and I don’t think anyone worth listening to would complain that Knut is somehow morally reprehinsible for killing the carp or calves). It’s the bare fact that the zoo administrators are treating some animals as toys and others as draws that gives rise to the criticism.

Carp, calf, puppy, whatever. Don’t send it through the polar bear enclosure if it’s not SUPPOSED to be killed by the polar bear. If they are supposed to be killed, then we begin to question why they are supposed to be killed. If there is no dietary reason then we REALLY begin to question why they are supposed to be killed.

I think that this sounds like a very valid criticism of the zoo.

But that’s because I don’t think a zoo ought to be cavalier about which animals in their care live and die. Which it seems they are in the case of carp.

Who cares about carp? Well, no one, I’d imagine. But I care about stupid death in general and this seems to be stupid and pointless, so saving the carp falls under a more general “don’t permit stupid and pointless death” principle that maybe zoos should follow.

improbable April 8, 2008 at 9:44 pm

It says in the article that the zoo hoped the carp would clean the water (by murdering the algae, presumably).

Even if Knut didn’t eat them, do you think the zoo would put them out in the trash?

The only sensible objection I can see to this is that people are squeamish, and wish to remain ignorant about anything but the cute fur. Presumably they should also keep the male and female animals separate during public viewing hours…

Tyler Cowen April 8, 2008 at 10:34 pm

They’re only fish! And overall we are clearly taxing polar bears, not subsidizing them. I don’t see why giving him the carp to kill for fun is any worse than…say…feeding him…

kai* April 8, 2008 at 11:26 pm

Obviously this is America’s fault (and by extension capitalism’s in general).

Coca Cola in their polar bear commercials portrays super-efficiently hunting carnivores as seal-hugging cuddly pets. No wonder Germans are confused about Knut’s behaviour.

Coca Cola did the same to St. Nikolaus. A virtuous bishop from Asia minor ends up dressed up silly and overweight like a retiree from Florida. How are Germans ever to understand the spirit of Xmas?

dug April 9, 2008 at 1:55 am

*sigh* There has already been concern about Knut being too “human” after being hand-reared, and addicted to the crowds. Learning how to hunt (even if he doesn’t finish the job yet) is part of growing up polar bear. He is still an adolescent and thus still learning.

greatzamfir April 9, 2008 at 4:04 am

Kai, here in Holland we still have the old bishop, who lives in Madrid, takes his traditional steam ship to the Netherlands every year for his birthday, and is accompanied by dozens of black helpers ( who, of course, used to be his merry slaves).

Steve April 9, 2008 at 4:31 am

Yes! Let us mock the silly Germans!

LemmusLemmus April 9, 2008 at 6:13 am

Steve,

given that I’m one myself, I suppose I’m allowed to mock those silly Germans.

As made fun of in the FAZ piece, the real issue here is not that the zoo authorities may have done something wrong (I tend to think that there are bigger animal rights issues in this country), it is that Knut is supposed to be cute, not cruel. When Knut first hit the headlines, Germans’ average IQ went down by about ten points instantaneously. It seems we haven’t recovered yet.

Dave Richardson April 9, 2008 at 8:23 am

Y’all are clearly missing the point here†¦it’s George Bush’s fault! If Democrats inhabited the White House Polar Bears and Carp would live in harmony just like the Shia and Sunni would in Iran and Iraq.

A Carp is a Rat is a Dog is a Boy.

JasonL April 9, 2008 at 9:29 am

The left should make lemonade here, if you ask me.

“See, children? This is life without a safety net.”

JTW April 9, 2008 at 10:17 am

Sounds like Knut was bored.

shecky April 9, 2008 at 12:12 pm

Maybe it’s just me, but it sounds like something’s been lost in translation. I think David Wright’s point should be considered.

wthr April 10, 2008 at 2:23 am

does no one own a cat? predators kill for pleasure all the time. it’s perfectly natural to play with your food when you’re not hungry

Sharon April 13, 2008 at 4:13 pm

The next time you play with your dog or cat, watch how it bats, bites or claws its toy. Just as a police officer spends time at the shooting range to maintain skills with a firearm, a predator practices catching, killing and tearing apart live prey. Your pet at play is honing its hunting skills. Cruelty is a human concept that should not be applied to other species.

rebecca May 15, 2009 at 11:20 pm

is is not bad

tom May 15, 2009 at 11:21 pm

It is enlightening!

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