When does a lion eating a giraffe become global headline news? When a zoo decides to execute a healthy giraffe named Marius with a shotgun blast to the head, dismember him front of a crowd, and feed his remains to a neighboring lion. Sounds too macabre to be real, but it happened at the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark. Apparently, zoo space is at a premium, and this particular giraffe wasn’t rare enough to warrant taking up that space.
The zoo’s decision sparked outrage around the world, garnered more than 30,000 protest signatures on an online petition and prompted adoption offers from other zoos. Despite the outcry, the Copenhagen Zoo went ahead with the killing, opened the autopsy to the public as an “educational opportunity” and allowed photography of the giraffe’s remains being devoured.
The zoo’s tone-deaf response to the public uproar has been even more chilling. Bengt Holst, the zoo’s scientific director, called the protests “totally out of proportion” and noted, “A giraffe is not a pet; it’s not like a dog or cat that becomes part of the family.” Perhaps, but to see one executed by the staff, then fed to another animal, was more than many animal lovers could bear.
THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Copenhagen Zoo, which demonstrated the business side of zoos in one of the most unsavory ways possible.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Even the most altruistic companies have to worry about the bottom line, but there are right ways to cut costs and wrong ones. It may well be that keeping this animal didn’t attract many grants or visitors. But disposing of it in the face of public fury was simply wrong – no matter how much it could be justified in the board room. A decision might look good in the ledger, but a raft of negative headlines could wind up costing much, much more.