Public relations for baby elephant must be a joke – please

I really hope that the story regarding the need for public relations to promote “animal celebrities” is an April Fools joke.  Following the international coverage of the “live or die” story of polar bear cub , the story alleges other orphans are being targeted by publicists. 

For example, Marlar — the first Asian elephant calf to be born at Cologne Zoo — is cited as having

seemingly electro-charged spiky hair and heavy, yet playful galloping stride, the live-wire baby elephant has her fair share of “ahh” factor.

Add to this the fact that her mother had to be put down due to illness when the calf was barely six months old, leaving the rearing to a benevolent aunt, and you have the ‘elephant-enclosure-of-hard-knocks’ back story to make her a global star.

The fact that there is little media attention for her first birthday party today is the fault of a lack of PR representation.  The hints that this might be an April 1st joke is that Knut is said to have 

a huge entourage behind the scenes; a publicist, a stylist, a rolling-in-the-dirt coach. The cub is not yet four months old and yet his media persona is already a cultivated one. Celebrity photographers jet in to snap him, and he’s just had his first cover shoot for German Vanity Fair.


“If Marlar’s people had talked to my people shortly after the birth, I would have her modeling for Stella McCartney by now,” said Lena Pfote, the managing director of German animal public relations firm Media Horse. “Obviously, Karl Lagerfeld would have been our first choice, but he has size issues.”

Given that Pfote means paw and there are references to animal celebrities in the Media Horse stable, I’m taking this as German humour.  

It is a shame that the story itself hasn’t raised the hackles of some anti-animal exploitation groups, to give it more legs (okay enough of the bad animal puns).  Last year’s art stunt by Banksy in painting an elephant did cause such uproar.

Animals, notably elephants, have been misused by publicists to promote their stories for decades – see this image promoting the Tarzan film at the Empire Cinema in Luton in 1934 .  

In the US,  was hawked as “the largest elephant ever in captivity” from 1922 – although he was 7 inches shorter than Phineas T. Barnum’s Jumbo of the 1880s.  Whilst was similarly promoted in London in the early 1800s, with his slaughter in 1826 becoming a cause célèbre.

Destruction of the Noble Elephant

So I have a niggling doubt that somewhere there are really PR folk pondering how they too could have a story as big as Knut.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

2 thoughts on “Public relations for baby elephant must be a joke – please”

  1. Sorry – Sunday lunchtime too. You should read the Wikipedia entry on poor Chunee, which shows the Victorian masses were less squeamish than us. As follows:

    Hundreds of people paid the usual shilling entrance fee to see his carcass butchered, and then dissected by doctors and medical students from the Royal College of Surgeons. His skeleton weighed 876 lb (397 kg), and was sold for £100 and exhibited at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, and later at the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the bullet holes clearly visible. His skin weighed 17 cwt (1,900 lb or 860 kg), and was sold to a tanner for £50.

    The manner of Chunee’s death was widely publicised, with illustrations printed in popular newssheets of volley after volley being shot into his profusely bleeding body. Recipes were published for elephant stew, along with maudlin poems saying “Farewell, poor Chuny”. Letters were printed in The Times protesting at the barbarity of the process, and the poor quality of the living conditions of the animals in the menagerie. The Zoological Society of London was founded in April 1826. The controversy was the inspiration for a successful play at Sadler’s Wells, entitled Chuneelah; or, The Death of the Elephant at Exeter ‘Change.

    The menagerie at Exeter Exchange declined in popularity after Chunee’s death. The animals were moved to Surrey Zoological Gardens in 1828, and the building was demolished in 1829.

    Nearly 80 years later and the debate is now about keeping animals in zoos altogether. And we use brutal images to shock, not to attract…

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