The bizarre story of the Ohio man who apparently let loose the animals from his personal wild animal “refuge” before committing suicide is fascinating and horrible for a number of reasons. I am a huge animal lover, so I don’t even want to get into the issue of how and why these animals were kept, and I am deeply saddened that the vast majority of them were killed after they were on the loose.
But…from a PR perspective, the best move I’ve seen in a long time was “Jungle” Jack Hannah standing right next to the police chief as the story unfolded, explaining why the preservation of human life and concern for human safety had to come first. I honestly can’t think of anyone who more publicly reaches the mainstream as an advocate for wild animals than Jack Hannah. Who hasn’t seen him with cuddly or ferocious creatures on The Tonight Show or David Letterman (in fact, when I went to a David Letterman taping, Jack was one of the guests)?
Before the world could convey its outrage over the photos of the dead lions and other animals (so tragic and heartbreaking to see), Jack was right there explaining why tranquilizers wouldn’t have worked during the night and how the police and other authorities put themselves in a dangerous position to preserve public safety.
As a PR person, of course I am cynical (is it really true that tranquilizers would be problematic for nighttime use because the animals would hide in the dark and then re-emerge when the tranquilizers wore off? I have no idea), but with Jack standing there saying it, it certainly seems true. Of course, it was a great coincidence that this happened in Ohio, where Jack has pre-existing ties to the zoo and has been involved in legislative issues around the keeping of wild animals. So it really helped that he had this connection. But still—having him standing there with that police chief…beautifully orchestrated PR.
Hopefully, even better PR will now kick in…people will mobilize and the state will be forced to reexamine its laws around having wild animals kept in residential areas, prevent the animal auctions that occur there, and allow nature’s beautiful creatures to live their lives in their natural habitats.