It was a tough week for supporters of animal rights and conservation. On Feb 9, news hit that Prince William was caught hunting deer and wild boar in Spain hours before launching a wildlife appeal in Africa banning illegal hunting. Although there is no evidence that the hunting excursion was illegal or for profit, the public regarded this inconsistency between his actions and words as unsettling. Tweets about the subject varied from confusion to disgust. He was accused of hypocrisy and the target of scrutiny from dedicated animal rights activists.
Numerous animal rights charities and organizations spread the news about Prince William’s activities in Spain. The leader, Joe Duckworth of The League Against Cruel Sports, a leading U.K. charity group against cruelty to animals particularly as a sport, was quoted in the Mirror News saying that his actions showed a “disregard for animals and wildlife.”
The next day, Feb 10, a young giraffe named Marius was killed and dismembered at the Copenhagen Zoo in full view of the general public. Then his dismembered parts were fed to lions. This incited outrage from many animal rights groups. The issues discussed ranged from ethical considerations about how and why Marius died to if it was appropriate to dismember the animal in front of children at the zoo. Explanations for the killing are different depending on the source. Some private buyers even offered a sizable ransom to save the giraffe. However, the offers appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
An article released by New York Daily News suggests that the zoo staff decided it was necessary to kill the giraffe to regulate population control and children’s viewing of this process was educational. The director of conservation and research for the zoo, Bengt Holst told CNN that the zoo had an obligation not to “make nature into Disney World.”
The zoo staff, including Holst, began to receive death threats via phone and email soon after the incident. A Facebook page uniting animal activists against the Copenhagen Zoo was launched. It quickly reached thousands of likes.
Both incidents bring into question serious public relations concerns. Each shared inconsistencies in messaging, a lack of messaging at times and insensitivity.
In the case of Prince William, he lacked transparency about his own actions. Because he was not forthright, his actions were perceived as sneaky and hypocritical. Was there a better way to handle this situation?
In the case of Marius, it appeared his killing was sudden and arbitrary. The zoo declined offers from private buyers without explanation and furthermore, statements made in the aftermath were insensitive to families who did not want their children subjected to witnessing something gruesome and to animal rights groups who most likely supported the zoo before this incident. Do you think the zoo handled the situation well? In what ways could the public relations team have anticipated and responded to the negative backlash?