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Remember When A Dutch Airline Put 440 Squirrels Into A Giant Shredder?

Image: KLM
Image: KLM

It was apparently quite common for Europeans to get imported squirrels from China and North America as pets way back in April of 1999. The squirrel trade was booming. A big shipment of squirrels transported by KLM Royal Dutch airlines from China was halted at Schiphol airport en route to an alleged Greek squirrel collector in Athens. According to reports from the time,the squirrels arrived without proper documentation or a return address in China, and the airline was unable to find a new home for the squirrels. The squeaky ground animals, along with hundreds of other turtles and birds, were disposed of in “the most humane” way the Dutch could think of: being hand-fed into a giant shredder.

According to reports, KLM shoved all of these animals into an industrial meat processing machine, arguing it had simply followed health laws and regulations regarding the disposal of improperly imported live animals. A spokesperson for the airline said at the time that despite the seemingly cruel method of destruction, he insisted this was the most humane way of complying with legal regulations. The animal shredding received such ire from the public that the Dutch parliament was forced to call an emergency meeting to amend the laws.

Apparently the regulation was written under the assumption that the imported animals would arrive in small quantities, and nobody ever determined it would be necessary to shred hundreds of live animals at once. In a recent interview about the concept of “accountability sinks,” Dan Davies told Bloomberg the story of the squirrels, summing it up thusly:

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...When you build a system, you are always building a model of the world, and if something happens which doesn’t fit into your model in the world, your system might do something awful.

Maybe, before you go shredding a bunch of squirrels, take a second to step back and look at the larger picture.

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