Thursday, July 16, 2009

The first giraffe in New Zealand

Image from Otago Witness, 20 January 1909.

The logistics of conveying exotic wild animals to places where money could be made by displaying them in the 19th century were both expensive and extremely difficult. While New Zealanders saw their first elephant on these shores in 1870-1871, it took nearly another 40 years before a firm of circus entrepreneurs achieved the feat of bringing the first giraffe here. The entrepreneurs were the Wirth Brothers, and the giraffe was one aged nearly three years old and purchased for £1000 from Karl Hagenbeck's Hamburg Zoo. The NZ press simply referred to it as "the £1000 giraffe", but it appears to have been named "Commonwealth" in Australia by a Mr. R. A. Price in May, 1908. (Adelaide Advertiser, 4 May 1908)

Commonwealth the giraffe arrived in New Zealand early in 1909, having already become the focus of attention due to the Wirths' canny advertising. The sheer logistics of transporting the animal fascinated as much as the oddity of the animal itself.
"The giraffe imported by Messrs. Wirth Bros, at a cost of over £1000 requires the careful and undivided attention of an attendant, who is always with it, even to occupying the same truck in the course of its transportation by rail. When the animal is carried on the railway it is placed in a telescopic cage in order to allow of its safe conveyance under bridges. The attendant lowers the roof of the adjustable cage, which reduces the height and compels the tall creature to bend its neck, so that the cage may pass under bridges and through tunnels in complete safety. The giraffe is the tallest animal in the world, and the specimen in question measures 15ft from hoof to head, and it is absolutely dumb. Careful attention must be given to its diet, which consists of porridge and milk, raw onions, salt, phosphates, oats, hay, and chaff. It is given six meals a day. Its natural method of feeding is high up, and when it picks up anything from the ground it is compelled to spread its front legs to enable it to get down."
(Evening Post, 30 January 1909)

Evening Post, 23 February 1909

The menagerie and circus, with giraffe, toured around New Zealand, reaching Auckland by late March 1909. Then, the circus packed up, boarded the steamer Marama, and headed back to Australia. Two animals, however, never made it back alive.
"The death of the giraffe on the Marama on the night preceding her arrival at Sydney was the subject of very general regret on the part of the passengers (says an exchange). It appears from the statement made as to the cause of the loss by one of Wirth Bros' managers that the animal was affected by the motion of the steamer, and seemed decidedly unhappy. It was standing up at the time and being unable to keep its feet fell down and sprawled about its cage. It could not recover itself, and, as Messrs Wirth's man expressed himself, "it was a timorous and nerveless animal, and after a minute's struggling it simply broke its heart." '

"This is an unlucky trip for us," he subsequently remarked, '"as the Polar bear died, on the first night out from Auckland, and we had to throw him overboard. The giraffe cost us £1000 so, you can see we are having a bad time of it." The giraffe was taken onto Sydney and will be stuffed and sent to Melbourne where it will be placed in Wirth's museum of animals that have died."

(Taranaki Herald, 14 April 1909)

So ended the life of the first giraffe to be seen in this country.

Journalist Henry Brett (on board Sydney boat, waking up suddenly at remark from steward):
What's that, man? My pet "Graphic" dead?
Steward: No, sir; Wirth's Giraffe's dead.

, 10 April 1909

1 comment:

  1. This is great reading Lisa. This looks like a reticulated Giraffe but I will check the sub species images I have