Screenshot from the live feed which has captured worldwide attention

The world has been watching with anticipation as April the giraffe became an internet sensation. Her pregnancy has been captured on live stream and viewed by millions. On Saturday 15th April, she gave birth to a baby boy at Animal Adventure Park, New York.

Sadly, this is no cause for celebration.

There is something so undeniably adorable about baby animals. Both cute and vulnerable, they tug on the heartstrings of every self-proclaimed animal lover. The enthusiasm that people around the world have illustrated for April’s new arrival shows that we love and care for other species. Zoos are very aware of this and use our love of animals as money-making opportunities, promoting babies and young animals – nothing sells better than cute. Animal Adventure Park are even selling April the giraffe merchandise to cash in on her pregnancy. April and other captive animals are treated as assets by zoos, not as individuals.

And for baby animals in zoos? Their future is bleak.

Born into captivity, they will spend their entire lives in a cage – far away from their natural habitat and deprived of their freedom. Young animals are often separated from their mothers – the zoo have already confirmed April’s baby will be sent to another facility for a breeding programme.

April’s zoo unabashedly claimed that “giraffes hide their [labour] signs as a natural instinct” , yet showed no qualms about the lack of privacy given to the mum-to-be.  And that is just the ones who manage to live beyond their sell-by date.

As these babies get older and lose their appeal, they become just as expendable as all the other animals in the zoo.

In 2012, the world was watching a different giraffe without such joy.

Copenhagen Zoo were quick to promote the birth of a baby giraffe, now suspected to be Marius. Just over eighteen months later, Marius was killed by the zoo – his corpse publicly dissected and fed to the lions.

The zoo-going public rarely get to see this point of view as they are only encouraged to celebrate the new birth. Indeed, zoos are quick to explain that each bouncing baby could bring hope to a species facing the threat of extinction.

It is irrefutable that the world’s wildlife is under threat. In December 2016, giraffes were uplisted to ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species for the first time and there has been a population decline of 36-40% over three generations. This is clearly awful news and the conservation community must work together to help these animals.  

Surely in light of this, any newborn should surely be a welcome addition? Unfortunately not.

Despite zoos’ conservation claims, precious few captive animals are ever reintroduced into the wild. Breeding programmes are primarily to ensure a captive population, to keep the public interested and going to see these incredible animals. Spending millions on a giraffe enclosure seems unjustifiable when in-situ conservation projects receive relatively little funding. 

In fact, captive breeding is considered by some conservation scientists to be a diversion from the reasons for a species’ decline as it gives a false impression of a species’ population security. Instead we should protect the species’ natural habitats and wild populations. Animals in zoos may be safe from hunters but they are certainly not safe from being culled.

Freedom for Animals has worked for many years to expose the sad realities of the zoo industry and will continue to lift the veil on zoos’ conservation claims.

It may be too late for this poor baby giraffe and his mum but with your help, we can work towards a world without cages where all animals are treated with the compassion they deserve.

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