Famine is a widespread scarcity of food. Famine means crisis and it has several effects on society, being one of those: death. Famine can be defined as “an extreme crisis of access to adequate food, manifested in widespread malnutrition and loss of life due to starvation and infectious disease.”
There are many times our planet has gone through a famine. Some countries still are experiencing it. But nothing can be compared with the year that Paris citizens appealed to eat the animals in its zoos.
Famine was so extreme that year that people were desperate. So zoo animals were sacrificed in order to feed the population. And it wasn’t restricted to zoo animals. Butchers of cats, dogs, and rats appeared.
It was the year 1870. After the defeat of Emperor Napoleon III in the Battle of Sedan, in the framework of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck hoped to achieve a quick surrender by France. But when the news of Napoleon III’s surrender reached Paris, a popular uprising occurred.
Seeing no possibility of negotiation, Bismarck ordered his troops to besiege the city of Paris, in order to obtain the surrender of the new government. For five months, the city of light suffered from isolation and food shortages.
However, when food began to be scarce, Parisians quickly found alternatives to alleviate hunger. Parisians started to consume the meat of horses, donkeys, and mules. Estimates of the time put around 65,000 horses that were slaughtered between September 1870 and January 1871.
Zoo Animals Butchers
Nevertheless, some people couldn’t afford equine meat. So they began to hunt, capture, and kill dogs, cats, pigeons, and rats. “Now there are cat, dog and rat butchers in Paris. We eat only horse when we can get it,” were the words used in a letter from the French painter Manet to his wife during the siege.
But the disastrous episode did not end here. When horses and stray animals became scarce, the city’s zoos made the decision to sell their animals to butchers.
Few animals were safe from the slaughter; only monkeys were kept alive because of their resemblance to humans, big cats, and hippos, because of the high price they put on them. Fortunately, the siege of Paris ended at the end of January 1871, with the capitulation of the French government.