Last week, I was shocked and disgusted to learn that the death of a giraffe at a zoo in near Haifa was caused by a characteristic item of discard in Israel: a plastic bag. Jabbar was the name of the giraffe at the Hay Park Zoo that choked to death on a plastic bag which zoo officials say was likely given to him by someone trying to feed him.
Despite the signs posted and the team of zoo employees constantly patrolling the grounds telling people not to feed the animals, or stopping them in the act, "visitors probably feel that if they pay admission they have the right to feed the animals," the zoo's manager, Oren Goldberg, told the JPost.
So it wasn't ignorance of the rules, but a sense of entitlement that led someone to believe that they could do what they wanted, and that for the entree fee to a zoo, they could buy themselves immunity from all consequence.
And it turns out they were right.
“It was one of the worst deaths you have ever seen in your life," Goldberg said, "just seeing this big animal laying on the ground dead.” No doubt, the agony of chocking to death on a plastic bag was also considerable for the animal.
Despite this, the killing of an animal due to a negligence that might have been recklessness will go not just unpunished, but uninvestigated. The zoo has indicated no attempt to find who is it was that fed the giraffe a plastic bag, in violation of the multiple warnings that such an action could kill an animal.
The solution hoped for by the zoo is legislation to fine people who feed the animals. One valiant MP from Kadima has taken up the mantle with a bill proposal, no doubt earning himself a few gold stars with the public for an issue that will be forgotten by the time the bill requires voting.
But this isn't an issue for the Knesset -- it's an issue for the police. Israel's Cruelty to Animals Law makes it a crime punishable by up to 3 years in prison to "torture, treat cruelly or in any way abuse any animal." It's hard to see how feeding a giraffe a plastic bag isn't at least a contender for the categories of cruelty and abuse.
Maybe this was in fact innocent -- for example, a child making a very unfortunate mistake. But maybe it wasn't, maybe it was someone intentionally flouting the rule, or wanting to "see what happens," or worse. A review of security footage and a discussion with witnesses would likely provide some answers.
In either case, it deserves an answer, not just on account of the animal's suffering and death, but for Israel to begin fostering something lacking in our society -- the notion that a public environment is not a private one. The public square is not a living room. The zoo is not a place where a visitor makes, or remakes, the rules.
In other words, it's civil society, which Wikipedia defines quite elegantly as "the arena outside of the family, the state, and the market where people associate to advance common interests."
And this, civil society, is the basis for a civic culture whose values include tolerance, pride in nation, active political association, an engaged and educated electorate, and an "expectation of fair treatment from government authorities" (also from Wikipedia). All things that Israelis once complained about and are now are taking to the streets to protest the lack of.
What's missing here is the understanding that the common good we're so badly in need of begins with fostering a sense of individual responsibility. Only once people feel responsible for their actions will they even consider the effects of those actions on others.
To achieve this at minimum means forbidding the possibility that someone recklesnessly killed an animal whose welfare we, as a society, are charged with protecting, and got away with it scot free. The agonizing death of this animal should be investigated. The public has the right to know what happened. The authorities have an obligation to tell us.
Here is a link to the Hay Park Zoo. I'll be following up this week, and hope you do the same.
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