• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Zoo forced to rename primate called 'Obama'

Kristen Allen · 10 Jul 2009, 14:31

Published: 10 Jul 2009 14:31 GMT+02:00

This spring the zoo in the eastern German city named a newborn mandrill “Obama” after freshly inaugurated US President Barack Obama. But an advocacy group for black Germans demanded that the primate be renamed this week, calling the zoo’s choice racist.

“It’s a catastrophe,” director of the Initiative for Black Germans (ISD) Tahir Della told The Local on Friday. “Black people continue to be confronted by associations with the animal kingdom and primitivity.”

The baby mandrill, which belongs to a species closely related to the baboon, was born on March 23, Manuela Collmar, zookeeper at the zoo’s “Afrika Haus,” told The Local earlier this week. Each year the zoo names all newborn animals beginning with the same letter.

“This year they all begin with ‘O,’ and one of the zookeepers chose ‘Obama’ – it was meant to be positive and an honour in light of his visit to Dresden in June,” Collmar said, adding that neither she nor her colleagues were aware of the history of using monkeys to caricature and ethnically stereotype black people.

In an email response to ISD director Della’s complaint about the mandrill’s name on Thursday, zoo director Karl-Heinz Ukena echoed her sentiments.

“The possible associations of this name choice were not considered, and the racist charicterisation – particularly with the background that the US president recently visited Dresden – was far off,” Ukena wrote, adding that the zoo had meant to express its “esteem” for Obama.

Ukena went on to apologise for any “irritation” the name had caused.

The ISD responded with a request for the zoo to take the issue seriously and rename the mandrill.

The request at first went unanswered, and calls on Friday to the zoo revealed that Ukena had left his office on holiday.

However, later the same day, the zoo told The Local it had reconsidered and would rename the baby primate.

The zoo director was contrite about any possible offence taken, his secretary Annette Heine said.

“We will change the name to 'Okeke,' which means 'he who was born on market day',” she said.

Munich-based Della said he was surprised by the zoo’s change of heart, calling it a “small miracle.”

He said he has made “countless” similar complaints that have been repeatedly brushed aside.

“Most people think it’s enough to qualify offensive content by saying they didn’t mean it that way,” Della told The Local. “For a long time racism has been associated with the Third Reich, but Germans need to understand that there are other forms. There are so few black people in the country, however, that they see it as a small problem.”

The Dresden Zoo’s choice of the name ‘Obama’ for the mandrill is a sign of what Della calls a “subliminal racism” that exists in the country.

Indeed, just last week the United Nations’ special rapporteur for racism Githu Muigai said Germany needs to do more to tackle the daily discrimination of ethnic minorities.

Story continues below…

Living in a less diverse society than in the United States, Germans have often struggled to avoid racial pitfalls and cultural insensitivity. Earlier this year a company was criticised for selling chicken nuggets called “Obama Fingers,” in an apparent reference to African-American fondness for fried chicken.

But there have also been gaffes in America.

This February, The New York Post was slammed for running a political cartoon showing police officers shooting a chimpanzee while saying: “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill,” just as Obama was having difficulty with the US Congress on efforts to boost the economy.

The paper said it had not intended to appear racist and was merely referencing a recent incident with a violent chimp in Connecticut.

Kristen Allen (kristen.allen@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
President who pioneered Moscow ties dies aged 97
Former Cold War President of West Germany Walter Scheel. Photo: DPA.

Former West German president Walter Scheel, who helped pave the way for his country's rapprochement with the communist East, has died aged 97, his party's spokesman said on Wednesday.

Former East to lag behind West for years to come: study
Poverty in eastern Germany. File photo: DPA

Eastern Germany remains economically anaemic with little prospect of catching up with the rest of the country by 2030, a study published on Wednesday said.

Turkey's spy network in Germany 'thicker than Stasi's'
Photo: DPA.

Turkey has around 6,000 informants working in Germany, which experts say means they're each monitoring more people than the Stasi did in West Germany during the Cold War.

Germany's first 'intelligent' bridge to open in Nuremberg
File photo: DPA

An €11 million bridge, which is nearing completion in northern Bavaria, is set to include technology never seen before on the German Autobahn.

Stockpile food in case of attack, Germany tells citizens
Photo: DPA

Germany on Wednesday urged its population to stockpile food and water in case of terrorist or cyber attacks, as it adopted its first civil defence strategy since the end of the Cold War.

Ten injured after freight train crashes into bus in Osnabrück
The crash site in Osnabrück. Photo: DPA

A freight train crashed into a bus in Osnabrück on Wednesday morning, leaving several people badly injured, local media report.

Man wins ten-year court battle over €2.50 surcharge
Photo: DPA

An Austrian man has won a ten year court battle over an extra €2.50 he was asked to pay to get into a swimming pool in Bavaria a decade ago.

In Pictures
Düsseldorf swoons as Prince William comes for royal visit
'Well hello Mr. Prince'. Photo: DPA.

Prince William paid a visit to the Rhineland city of Düsseldorf on Wednesday to celebrate the state of North Rhine-Westphalia's 70th birthday. Here's a look at his royal stay.

Brexit
Frankfurt attempts to charm banks away from London
Frankfurt am Main. Photo: DPA

Germany's finance capital has spotted an opportunity with the Brexit-wary banking beasts of the Square Mile.

How did this bike end up on top of Berlin’s Molecule Man?
A professional climber 'rescuing' the bike hanging from the Molecule Man. Photo: DPA.

Berliners are still scratching their heads over how a bicycle ended up dangling from the capital’s iconic statue.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
What's on in Germany: events for August 2016
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
8,647
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd