Capitalizing on Gerry. Giraffes as Lively Commodities in the Global Animal Trade around 1900, a Case Study

The animal trade around 1900 is a product of close relations between economy, science, entertainment, but also of power and violence towards animals as well as humans. It produced different practices of commodification of animals on a global market that connected the Horn of Africa and Germany in a more-than-human world, as I show in the case study of the giraffe ‹Gerry›.

Gerry was one of the first giraffes caught at the Horn of Africa after the Mahdist uprising (1881-1899) had prevented access to their habitats, making them rare and highly costly in Europe. Considering the local situation and multispecies entanglements – between African and European actors as well as the animals – new perspectives on the practices of commodification are gained. These practices and translocations turned animals into marketized goods. Once bought, Gerry was given its name and quickly became a star of the Frankfurt Zoo. This new individualisation capitalized on the encounterability of the charismatic animal and added symbolic value to the animal and was a useful marketing ploy.

The following years are exemplary for the strong entanglements between European and African markets. As knowledge of the high value of giraffes spread, locals working in the animal business demanded more money for their vital services, thus playing an active part in the pricing of giraffes in Africa and ultimately the global market.

The case of Gerry highlights how local and political situations, the more-than-human geographies, the global market for animals, African and European actors as well as animals themselves constitute the multispecies entanglements that were the global animal trade. I analyse how the value of animals was brokered through these complex entanglements.