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124) If the giraffes appear metonymic of the position of most humans under Communism, this metonymy is reciprocal. Like the giraffes, Emil is ‘bound’ because of his nationality under Soviet rule. Emil’s pessimism – or realism – is symbolically endorsed by a cutting he keeps from a Polish magazine of the Salvador Dali painting: Giraffes and Burning Telephones and which, in its depiction of giraffes on fire, so cruelly foreshadows the fate of the giraffes as they are slaughtered. In the political dispensation, human embodiment, or representations of it, is also at risk of incineration – exemplified by the burning of the child’s text, Emil and the Detectives, by the Nazis, but also by the ‘students who doused themselves in petrol and made human torches of themselves in protest at our captivity’ (36).
But eventually he sponsored major collecting expeditions into Africa and obtained his animals at source. He was also involved in the wider picture of Imperial politics and in the 1905 he mounted an expedition, using his long-time Somali associate Gorseh, to acquire one thousand camels for the German army. He wrote that his business was greatly enhanced once the German Empire was established as a worldwide force as this enabled better access to the habitats of animals in Africa particularly. For the British traders the combination of the rise of Imperial Germany and the widespread adoption of the Suez Canal was a fatal double blow (Hagenbeck).
The vulnerability of Sogo Jan in relation to slavery, the vulnerability of the giraffes transported to eastern Europe is exceeded by the ultimate vulnerability of the giraffes at the Dvur Kralove zoo as they are slaughtered. Ledgard’s excruciatingly detailed representation of the deaths of the giraffes spirals through different viewpoints so that the narrative is repeated in a nightmarish way. For Pick: ‘to deny the agency of creaturely suffering does not only deflect a difficult reality, but compromises thought’ (11).