Elephant Sexuality: Bona Fide Job Requirement? Caveat Emptor?

Discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegitimate in the world of commerce — when talking about humans, at least. What about when talking about animals? To discriminate based upon human sexual orientation is an affront to human dignity, and to ideals of human moral equality. But our views about animals are different. Even though many of us love animals, and think they warrant good treatment, we generally don’t object to discriminating among animals the same way we object to discriminating among humans.

So, check out this story, from Reuters, via Yahoo! News: Polish politician fumes over “gay” elephant in zoo

WARSAW (Reuters) – A Polish politician has criticised his local zoo for acquiring a “gay” elephant named Ninio who prefers male companions and will probably not procreate, local media reported on Friday.
“We didn’t pay 37 million zlotys (7.6 million pounds) for the largest elephant house in Europe to have a gay elephant live there,” Michal Grzes, a conservative councillor in the city of Poznan in western Poland, was quoted as saying.
“We were supposed to have a herd, but as Ninio prefers male friends over females how will he produce offspring?” said Grzes, who is from the right-wing opposition Law and Justice party.
The head of the Poznan zoo said 10-year-old Ninio may be too young to decide whether he prefers males or females as elephants only reach sexual maturity at 14.

OK, odd story, liable to produce a few giggles here & there. I mean, the notion of elephant sex is funny enough, without the notion that elephant sexuality might be subject to the same wonderful diversity as human sexuality. But then, this is also a story about a commercial transaction — a very expensive one — which brings it into the realm of business ethics. So, a couple of points:

Commodification of animal sexuality is widely regarded as ethically permissible. Paying for the services of a ‘stud,’ for example, is common among horse-owners, as well as in the breeding of dogs, cattle, and other domesticated animals. And if it’s legitimately commodifiable, it seems we’re in the realm where sexuality is subject to ethical & legal questions about product quality. So, does the zoo in question have a legitimate beef over the quality of the product it bought? Well, in a commercial transaction (especially ones with large price-tags), many of the relevant obligations are built in, written into the sales contract. And we don’t know much about the terms of contract for this reluctant elephant stud. We don’t know if guarantees were given, for example. If not, well, given the (apparent) variability of elephant sexuality, it seems this is a case of ‘buyer beware.’ And the buyer in this case is a zoo — a buyer with some relevant expertise, presumably including some knowledge about animal sexuality.

On the other hand, some might choose to look at the elephant as deserving of respect in its own right, rather than as a commodifiable ‘product.’ Looked at that way, is this a case of workplace discrimination, based on sexual orientation? Well, workplace discrimination is generally bad if the basis for discrimination is something irrelevant to the job. It’s not generally considered wrong to discriminate based on a characteristic that is a bona fide job requirement. When hiring airline pilots, it’s not wrong to discriminate against the visually impaired. And presumably if the ‘job’ being done is the job of serving as a stud, having the right sexual orientation (or at least a willingness to play the role!) is a bona fide job requirement. That would mean the zoo in question has the right to discriminate; but acting upon that right really should have meant asking the right questions, or bargaining for the right assurances, up front.
Business ethics aside, for more on animal homosexuality, see this Wikipedia entry, which includes a paragraph on elephants: Homosexual behavior in animals.
And see also this book: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity by Bruce Bagemihl, Ph.D.

Sadly, I’m receiving too many hateful, poorly-reasoned, off-topic comments on this posting. I have neither the time nor the energy. I’m cutting off comments.

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