GoDaddy.com Chief Executive Bob Parsons feels absolutely no remorse for his choice to engage in elephant hunts in Zimbabwe. He posted this boastful video saying it’s one of the most ‘rewarding’ things he does (warning – strong stomach required), and continues to defend it even after coming under fire for his actions.
Parsons had this to say about his hunts (this wasn’t his first):
I spend a few weeks in Zimbabwe each year helping the farmers deal with problem elephants. The people there have very little, many die each year from starvation and one of the problems they have is the elephants, of which there are thousands and thousands, that trash many of their fields destroying the crops. The tribal authorities request that I and others like me, patrol the fields before and during the harvest – we can’t cover them all, there are just a few of us – and drive the elephant from the fields.
The farmers try to run the elephants away by cracking whips, beating drums and lighting fires. All of this is ignored by the elephants. When my team catch elephants in a field (there are never just one) we typically kill one of them and the rest leave for good. After we kill an elephant the people butcher the elephant and it feeds a number of villages.
These people have literally nothing and when an elephant is killed it’s a big event for them, they are going to be able to eat some protein. This is no different than you or I eating beef. If at all possible we avoid elephant cows and only kill mature bulls. By just killing bulls it has no effect on the elephant social structure (as it is matriarchal) as well as the herd size. The reason is another bull quickly steps up and breeds in place of the bull taken.
Zimbabwe has had a lot of issues with its elephants. Local officials have outright lied about population numbers to benefit from ivory sales, and illegal poaching is commonplace. Are there thousands and thousands of elephants in Zimbabwe? Well, yes, technically, but the story isn’t that simple.
Overall, African elephant populations are classified as ‘vulnerable’. There used to be over ten million elephants in Africa. The ivory trade decimated populations in the 70’s and 80’s, leaving behind only about 5% of the continent’s elephants. The mass slaughter prompted the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) to ban the trade of ivory in 1989, and thanks to conservation efforts that protected animals from illegal poachers, depleted numbers began to recover. The success was quickly tainted, however, as rising human populations encroached upon what little habitat the elephants had left, and herds began to come a little too close for comfort to human settlements. In many southern African countries, whole-herd culls were enacted to keep elephants away from villages and crops. Such large-scale culls were stopped in the 90’s, but the debate about how to deal with the elephants still rages on.
In Zimbabwe, the situation is complex. Conservation efforts have raised population numbers so much that the parks designated to protect the animals aren’t big enough for the entire population. Similarly, human populations have grown, leading to settlements in established elephant corridors like the Zambezi River area. It’s no wonder that the issue of elephant-human interaction has become a hot topic in Zimbabwe. The country’s sociopolitical issues only exacerbate the problem. It’s hard to tell people that are starving that they shouldn’t kill the elephant that just destroyed their only source of food.
The problem is, elephants aren’t like locusts or other pest species. They are extremely intelligent and have complex social structures that rival primates. They live for 65 years or more. Many believe that the need to reduce elephant numbers is outweighed by the specific moral argument that sentient, long-lived, social animals such as elephants should not be killed.
I can see both sides of the debate, and thus can’t say explicitly that, given extreme circumstances, killing an elephant is wrong. But it is definitely not, as Parsons says, just like eating beef. I’m not a member of PETA. I eat meat. I like meat. But there is a big difference between eating domesticated cattle or chickens, raised specifically for the purpose of food and (at least in theory) killed in the most humane way possible, and shooting an intelligent wild animal.
Furthermore, Parsons has no justification whatsoever in his statement that his random killings have “no effect” on the social structure of the herd. Elephants have specific reactions to death, and are thus one of only a handful of animals which is thought to understand the concept. Some speculate they may even grieve. What scientists are 100% sure of is that the loss of adult members of a herd has a significant impact on other elephants, especially young ones.
“Calves witnessing culls and those raised by young, inexperienced mothers are high-risk candidates for later disorders, including an inability to regulate stress-reactive aggressive states,” explain researchers in an essay in Nature. They explicitly state that contrary to Parson’s statement, the loss of males is anything but meaningless, and that older males play a ‘critical role’ in the normal social development of young bulls.
Even if, and I do say if, the killing of an elephant how and when he did was necessary for the safety and welfare of the villagers, I find it easy to be disgusted by Parsons. What bothers me about his actions isn’t so much what he did (though it’s really hard for me to watch) but the boastful joy he has about doing it. Let’s be clear about one thing: Parsons doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the starving people in Zimbabwe. It sickens me that he tries to claim a moral high ground when he clearly is killing for sport, using the guise of a real political and ecological issue to justify his perverse pleasure.
If Parsons really wanted to help the villagers, his money could be put to much better use. He could invest in effective, humane measures to keep the elephants from destroying crops. Protective measures like fences solve the problem far more effectively than joy-killing a random elephant every year. Furthermore, research has suggested that so-called “rogue” elephants which raid crops can be trained to stop. One group placed texting radio collars on problem elephants which alerted rangers when they got too close, and found that one elephant that was turned away enough took the hint. If Parsons is going to kill elephants, at least he could go through an organization like CAMPFIRE, which directly works with villagers to ensure they benefit from any actions involving the wildlife they share their land with, not just hand poor, starving people a carcass and video them ripping it apart to the tune of “Hell’s Bells.”
Besides, killing one elephant doesn’t keep the villagers from starving. If the people mattered to him, the thousands of dollars he spent on killing an elephant could be used to buy food or help modify agricultural lands to maximize output. Heck, he could work with initiatives like the World Food Programme, donating his time or money. He could help turn the elephant problem into a source of income for the village through ecotourism. But instead, he uses an emotional debate to excuse his bloodthirsty desire to shoot at things.
I know that the situation in Zimbabwe is terrible, but having arrogant, rich assholes pay to come kill elephants isn’t the answer. I wish I had a Go Daddy account, just so I could close it.