In 1975, secret police dressed in chemical warfare suits sealed off a zoo in a small Czechslovakian town and ordered the destruction of the largest captive herd of giraffes in the world.
J M Ledgard's novel follows the story of these giraffes from their capture in Africa and their travels to reach Czechslovakia. Part of the story is told in the voice of Snehurka, a beautiful young giraffe with a snow white belly. Also adding their voices to the tale are Emil, a zoologist who studies blood flow and Amina, a sleepwalker in the village who becomes fascinated by the giraffes.
The novel shines a light on the stress the giraffes were put under in their capture and transport to the zoo. Their welfare was totally disregarded to preserve the local domestic animals against a disease there seemed to be no proof the giraffes were suffering from. The last long section of the novel focuses on the slaughter of the giraffes and is very difficult to read.
The novel is also very interesting in terms of the insights it offers into how communism operated in rural Czechslovakia.
Giraffe by J M Ledgard published by Jonathan Cape.
We steal these animals from their homes
and destroy the rainforests
build on the plains and poison the waters
then we imprison the animals
if they're lucky in a recreated forest
sometimes just on concrete behind bars
where they pace from side to side
until we either let them free
or kill them because we have
no further use for them.
I have to admit to having mixed feelings about zoos. We shouldn't need zoos, but given what we've done to the natural world, surely it's better that the animals still live somewhere, even if it is in captivity? Plus a lot of zoos, do work for conservation and do return animals to the wild.
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