Knut's Death Brings Changes To The Lucrative Celebrity Animal Business

Illustration for article titled Knut's Death Brings Changes To The Lucrative Celebrity Animal Business

It may be time to update that old expression about beating a dead horse to include polar bears. Though Knut, the Berlin Zoo's polar bear, has been dead for three months, the race to profit from his memory is just getting started.


Before his death from encephalitis in March, Knut was arguably the animal world's biggest star. Like any other celebrity, he generated millions of dollars worth of business. Bloomberg Businessweek reports:

In its 167-year history, the Berlin Zoo-which is subsidized by the city and listed on the Berlin Stock Exchange-has been profitable for only three years, says Heiner Klös, its animal curator. Those were 2007 to 2009, the Years of Knut, when yearly attendance rocketed from 2.5 million to 3.5 million visitors, and the zoo made more than $30 million. In all, Gerald Uhlich, a former chief executive of the zoo and the architect of Brand Knut, estimates that the polar bear generated more than $140 million in global business.

Now dozens of vulture-like entrepreneurs are looking to keep Brand Knut going. There are plans for tell-all books, movies, a TV documentary, and everything from lunchboxes to coffee cups. Nevermind that Knut's no longer with us — just slap "in memoriam" on the merchandise and theoretically, the profits will keep rolling in.

The next few months should determine whether or not the bear is still profitable. And even if the public is still willing to shell out for Knut products, the Berlin Zoo may stand in the way. The zoo only licenses Knut's trademark to companies that preserve the bear's image "as an ambassador of climate change," according to Birgit Clark, a London trademark attorney. Uhlich, who is writing a book about Knut, complains that the zoo is missing an opportunity. "Brand Knut is established," he says. "There is still greater potential to use it for further products or services!" Calm down, mister — there's no need to be so sentimental about an animal!

Even if the Berlin Zoo squashes this macabre business, there are plenty of other animals ready to take Knut's place, including Heidi the opossum at the Leipzig Zoo, Leo the Pakistani snow leopard at the Bronx Zoo, and Miwa the monkey in Kyoto. It's likely that the lesson zoos take from Knut's death will be that it's best to have more than one celebrity animal at a time, just in case a baby elephant grows up to be not quite as cute, or there's an untimely mauling in the lion habitat. Of course, many people believe that making money off of zoo animals, and even keeping them in captivity in the first place, is exploitative. Yet, it seems unlikely that zoos will walk away from such a lucrative model, as ethics rarely win out when there are millions at stake.

Knut, The $140 Million Polar Bear [Bloomberg Businessweek]


"Of course, many people believe that making money off of zoo animals, and even keeping them in captivity in the first place, is exploitative"

Yep, this is true. But i have to admit that i loooove to go to the Zoo. What i do think is that Zoos should be as modern as possible and that they should sometimes make sacrifices within diversity to provide the animals they have with more space and more appropiate enviroment. There are Zoos though where this is very nicely done. Yes it is not perfect but well which human is allowed to live in as much space as he would like too (not me). What i hope is that Zoos will use their animals to promote animal protection and eco friendliness. Zoos can have the purpose to educate and to actually help the wild life. There are as well Zoos with breeding programs for nearly extinct animal sorts. Unfortunatly there are still alot of Zoos which do not give a damn about animals and just want to make money out of them but we should not conclude that from all Zoos.

I find the marketing of Knut a bit tasteless too but at the end of the day, he does not suffer from it, nor does anybody else. It is after all a dead animal. Nobody cares for the cows and pigs and the thousands of cute dogs and cats which die every day. I just love that the Zoo of Berlin wants to promote awareness of climate change and forbids people to use Knut for anything else.

The marketing and corporate world in general is very tasteless. There are many buisness concepts which make me want to put my fingernails into somebody. The marketing campaign about Knut is very low ranked compared to that bullshit which happens on an everday basis. So i rather freak out about that then about somebody selling some icebear figures of a dead ice bear.