Last week in Cophenhagen, the city’s zoo killed a 2-year-old giraffe named Marius with a bolt gun to prevent inbreeding. His body was dissected in front of schoolchildren, his remains then fed to hungry lions.
Despite 27,000 people signing a petition to stop the killing, and an offer of a new home, the zoo would not be swayed.
The story got international attention — and the public outcry was so extreme that the zoo’s scientific director received death threats.
At the same time, of course, violence raged across Syria, famine loomed in South Sudan and stories of children beaten or mistreated surfaced in America. Was there as large an outcry?
When reports of animal victimization reach the news, they seem to overshadow traumas and tragedies that befall human beings. Not a month passes, it seems, without at least one story of some act of animal cruelty followed by hundreds if not thousands of people denouncing it.
But do people really care more about harm to dogs than to humans?
To find out, we had 240 students at the school where we teach, Northeastern University, read one of four fictitious news stories that depicted either a puppy, an adult dog, a human infant or a 30-year-old human being severely beaten with a baseball bat. The students were then asked to rate how much sympathy and distress they felt for the assault victim.