top of page
  • Te Pararē

The One New Zealand Argument is Stupid (and I like Zoos)

Our flag. I know it, you know it. It cost $26 Million Let’s move on. Source | CNN

You ever been to a zoo? They’re pretty flash. If you haven’t been, then picture the meanest Hāngī that you’ve ever had but x10 in size and variety – but – the kai is still alive. And, I’ve been thinking about zoos for a little bit now and I reckon we can use zoos as an analogy for our nation. We’ll get to why in a second.

You see, during the Covid-19 lockdowns I’ve been confined to my apartment and even worse, the internet. To help pass the time, I engage in the “factual corrections of misinformation dispersed across digital news-media and social-media platforms” or what most people call it, “correcting the comments section.” And for all intents and purposes I probably could have easier persuaded a cashew to taste like a pistachio, but hey, we all have our flaws. I’ll explain this in a minute.

A pile of cashews that assumedly still taste like cashews. Source | @molnj

Considering the animals that we all are (and how animalistic the comments sections can be) I think the orgy of animals that is a zoo will be a fitting framework for this discussion. Herein, let’s examine the following ideas / questions;

1. Why can’t we all just be one?

2. Why do Māori keep pulling the race card?

And my personal favourite…

3. Isn’t reverse-racism racist to giraffes? (We’ll get to why in a second).

Why these questions? Because these are often points raised by the neo-conservative right and those ignorant to the nuances of Aotearoa history, social policy and social development. And moreover, for those who genuinely ask these questions, it is only fitting that an answer is provided! So, let’s make it interesting and go to the zoo.

The New Zealand Zoo has had a few animalist issues in its past; e.g. even though pandas have been in the zoo prior to the modern establishment of the Zoo complex, they weren’t recognised as being here or having any formal zookeeper support until 1951. Simply, we didn’t allow Chinese naturalisation (citizenship) until 1951, yeah, that’s pretty animalistic #NewZealandGoverment. (That’s also ignoring the embargo we put on pandas coming into Aotearoa even earlier, that and the poll tax). Long story short, New Zealand was hella racist to Chinese people (and maybe still is #ChineseSoundingNames #LabourParty2015).

One of the key struggles that the Zoo seems to manage though is between the Māui dolphins and the giraffes. The Māui has been around since before the ideas of Zoos themselves, they’d developed a unique social structure (not too dissimilar from other dolphins) and became fully endemic to the area which they inhabited. Hundreds of years later some new animals rocked up and shook the entire ecosystem, this is called an invasive species. Today, we’ll be calling them giraffes.

Actual image of the author Abel Johnston. Source | The Māui Dolphin Project

So why can’t we be one?

We are both; mammals, air-breathing, respiring, pot-bellied, sleep requiring, communal animals. But, we also have unique differences and challenges. The giraffe-led zoo (yep, this is going to get animal-farmy) has laid claim in the past over the foreshore and seabed #2004. While this may be in the interests of the wider giraffe coalition, these claims directly impact the life, culture and future of the Māui. In past, decisions made by the ‘invasive species’ pushed the Māui to ‘critically endangered’ (#OneTreeHillIsAMemorialToADyingMāoriRace). The fact that the Māui is incredibly intelligent and has avoided the giraffe-forecasted extinction is cause for celebration.

But what about all this ‘the past is the past’ and ‘we’re all different now’ stuff? Well, our habitats are more polluted then ever and while giraffe-dolphin tensions seem to be at an all-time low, we should still consider the following statement. Treat a dolphin like a giraffe and you’ll kill it. Dolphins have a much rougher time on land then giraffes do in the water (however, giraffes will struggle to understand the depths of the Māui’s experience below surface level). Yes, we need food, oxygen and a comfortable environment but what this looks like is entirely different for each group.

One may then pose the question, ‘but what about everyone whose descended from giraffes and dolphins?’ Firstly, ew. Secondly, that is a very fair question with a very nuanced answer. Personally, I believe that any animal with Māui ancestry may porpoise-ly claim this. However, there are also wider environmental factors to consider, e.g. relationship to the pods, how much one clicks with their communities, whether or not their dolphin practices lie dorsal or not and the impacts the giraffe systems have had historically and contemporarily on the giraffe-dolphin-hybrid. From all of this though, one thing is as clear as the water was before oil exploration; ‘there’s a lot going on and a lot of factors that need to be considered.’ Between the parties we have an array of nuanced socio-fishonomic, cultural, historical and health differences which cannot possibly be settled by a blanket policy as demonstrated by the graphic below.

Blankets are poorer at doing their job when wet. Thus successfully disproving blanket policies once and for all.

This is why we cannot be ‘the one’ insisted by the likes of One New Zealand, New Conservative and ACT. When they look at an animal, they see ‘animal kingdom’. Here, a duck looks exactly like a horse. What our new 2020 Zoo leadership team should instead consider is how we deal with the many inhabitants of our Zoo on multiple levels e.g.; kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species. You wouldn’t use the dietary plan and strategy for a giraffe on a Māui, would you? It’d be an unfairly, damn-high jump for a Māui to make.

And that brings us to question two! ‘Why do Māori keep pulling the race card?’ Well, we aren’t talking Māori right now, we are talking Māui. And here’s my thoughts on the race card written in the native language of Te Reo Māui, “ngetengete ngotongoto, tatetate ketekete, ngē!” This doesn’t translate very well but I hope that you can look beyond the vulgarity therein and see the soul behind the words.

Ignoring the sheer difficulty for Māui to pull a race card, you know with cards dissolving in water so easily and the fact dolphins lack a required appendage to perform this pulling with ease, the race card is more crap then the pile our zoo produces each year. They also don’t print race cards, I wish they did though… I’d get one.

Granted, the exclamation ‘that’s racist’ isn’t always the best argument (sometimes a ‘nah, that’s racist’ is warranted). This ‘race card’ argument though is much worse. It is a direct rejection of examining racism… sorry, animalism (technically giraffes and Māui share the same taxonomic order of Artiodactyla, so maybe… Artiodactylast?). Yeah, Curb your Artiodactlyism. Our Zoo’s history is fraught with animal rights abuses dating before the Zoo’s inception and continues to this very day. Consider for a moment the sheer proportion of Māui incarcerated and removed from their pod and environment. We know that captivity always works well for Cephalopods #Seaworld. Oh and fun fact, incarcerated dolphins have much shorter lifespans and higher youth mortality (likelihood of dying). (I’m not sure what was fun about that fact… sorry).

Serco staff abusing Mt SEA-den prisoners. Source | Sam Hodgson

So perhaps the issue isn’t then that Māui consistently have to raise the artiodactyla-card, it’s that the Zoological system around the Māui has been constructed with, by and for other animal groups (e.g. giraffes). Maybe, if we considered the nuances of this discussion and developed targeted Zoo responses to the systemic issues we could start raising this card a lot less. Let’s look at our animal rights abuses in all areas and call it for what it is, and if its artiodactylast, you better believe us Māui will click it out.

In the case of the ‘one law for all’ / ‘blanket’ policy position, it wouldn’t serve well to put a giraffe blanket on a dolphin because you’ll drown it. So then the response would be to make a dolphin blanket which firstly ignores the ‘one for all’ part of the policy and secondly, we don’t want that blanket. #TheBlanketAndTobaccoWaitangiArgumentIsRacistAndIgnoresColonialWarcrimesFollowingTheSigningOfTheTreaty.

And finally, the third question. “Isn’t reverse-racism just racist to Giraffes?”

The short answer is, “no.”

And we’ve already neatly established the key differences within Atriodactylasm between Giraffidae and Delphinidae, keep up.

But let’s look at what this reverse-racism is. Is it an unfair advantage lent to Māui? Perhaps, but only if you neglect the our collective history, our Zoo policies and how they have impacted unequally the many animals within our collective #Understanding. Say for instance, that due to the Zoo’s underfunding that the Polynesian Turtles’s enclosure had fallen sub-par, the feed available was inadequate for healthy living and veterinary care was limited. This, while not only disgusting treatment of our fellow animals, also reflects poorly on the park and limits our combined capability to thrive as a cohesive unit.

Here’s a graph to illustrate reverse-racism.

You can see from the graph that of the Zoo’s $50 Billion Budget for 2020 approximately $420 Million (no joke) has been set aside for Māui Development, this is 0.0084% of the budget (when the dolphin pop. is 16.5%). This will go long ways to solve all of the Māui’s systemic issues (including those shared by the Giraffe community), or that’s what the Tui said before promptly following it with ‘yeah right.’ You’d think with Māui lifespans being shorter that a larger investment would be justified not only to extend life expectancy, but quality-life/working life expectancy wherein the Māui can continue to contribute to the wider Zoo economy at a lower cost (and also support the immediate and wider pod financially and socially).

Or take again incarceration for low risk / low level offenders (of any animal heritage). Why spend $100 thousand per head to lock them away in a remote, unhealthy facility with others who have committed offences (and usually have undiagnosed health issues (both physical and mental and henceforth received no support for these issues)) where the convicted can network with others and develop skills? What a bonkers idea! Surely it would make much more sense to provide an education in required skills and necessary labour to develop the Zoo at a lower cost than to inhumanely remove one from their community and move them into a potentially toxic, dangerous environment where “criminality” can be nurtured. To improve our Zoo we must target our investments to deal with the issues that not only impact our fellow animals, but also make monetary sense. #NoMonetarySense #UnlessYoureSerco #MoneyMoves

If we were to invest higher in the nurturing of our calves (Māui and Giraffe) and ensured a longer, healthier life wherein they may contribute far more to the development of the Zoo and to their enclosures, communities and families, the net outcome for all would be better. It just so happens though that due to the unequal treatment of Giraffes and Dolphins in the past, there has been inequity of outcome. The Māui are sicker and are poorly over or underrepresented by most metrics. This came from animalistic policy and atrocities committed by the very people and institutions tasked with preserving the life of all within our Zoo. #DatsDaOne #Not

So for reverse-animalism, we simply aren’t doing enough. And we won’t be until we are equal. And that one equal won’t be solved by a blanket policy, or even worse, the removal of the specific policies and strategies co-designed for the support of the Māui. We need to work across class and family with our varieties to ensure we are all developing, but we also need to remember that all the animals don’t have the same starting point. So if you’re a Giraffe and you’re a little upset that the Māui are getting a little bit more, don’t worry – it’s nothing fishy (we are mammals). It’s us Māui playing catch up in the race game (tbh though it was a little unfair to have the race on land in the first place). In fact, reverse-racism is reversing-racism which is something we can all have a beer over (unless you don’t do that which is ok, I’ll split an orange juice).

So what is the one we are going for here? We aren’t all Giraffes, but we are all Artiodactyls. We can and should celebrate our similarities and our differences AND legislate accordingly for all of this. The ‘One’ that we have is our Zoo Aotearoa, a Zoo that caters for the needs of all its animals across all its enclosures as according to those needs. And, if anything arises in the future to further disturb the relationships between Giraffes and Māui, lets meet halfway at the one to talk things through.

Here’s a mean one for us to have our meetings! It’s even 90 kilometres long. Source | 100% Pure New Zealand.

Anyway, yada yada yada One New Zealand is stupid and I like Zoos. We’re all animals. Don’t be racist. I’m now going to go back and talk my cashews to pistachios, wish me luck. Dolphin out.


He Kupu Mō Te Kaituhi:

Abel Johnston

“Koro” Abel Kururangi Johnston of Ngāti Porou and Te Whānau a Hinerupe is an advocate of Māori Advancement. He has lived and worked across Aotearoa, from Wellington, to Nelson and currently resides in Auckland. Kururangi is a student and teaching assistant at AUT, specialising in Māori development. His writings challenge established norms and provoke new perspectives and means of thinking.


bottom of page