Shooting an Elephant: Why GoDaddy’s CEO Was Wrong

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UPDATE, 3 p.m. Thursday: GoDaddy competitor Namecheap has launched a campaign to woo away offended GoDaddy customers. Our colleagues at Techland have the full story: Switch business now, and Namecheap is offering to make elephant donations on your behalf.

We all shoot vacation videos, but most of us choose to keep them to ourselves — or, at worst, share them with our Facebook friends. Bob Parsons, CEO of the Internet-hosting firm, which you know from its lame Super Bowl ads and absolutely nothing else — likes bigger exposure. Parsons recently posted a video of his trip to Zimbabwe, where he shot an elephant. See below:

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Now, there are so many things wrong with this video that it’s hard to know where to start. First: Is it really appropriate to score a scene of hungry villagers tearing apart a dead elephant to the tune of AC/DC’s “Hells Bells“? And I can’t be the only one who found it creepy that Parsons outfitted nearly everyone in the area with bright orange GoDaddy baseball caps. Not to mention the fact that this all took place in Zimbabwe, a broken country oppressed by the tyrannical Robert Mugabe, where 64% of the population lives under the poverty line and nearly 100% live in fear. This is one step up from taking a spring break in North Korea.

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But of course the biggest criticism comes from animal-rights advocates who view Parsons’ video — which shows him shooting and killing an elephant, then standing proudly over its corpse — as, well, showing poor taste. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) singled out Parsons for particular abuse:

I am writing to present you with PETA’s first-ever scummiest CEO of the year award (your certificate is on the way). You deserve the award for your egregious disregard for the life of the elephant you shot and killed for your personal enjoyment. Such behavior only shows a poverty of understanding and a deep insecurity, perhaps in your own masculinity. Nonlethal methods are available to protect crops from elephants left hungry because of their disappearing habitat.

Parsons defended himself on his blog, arguing that his target was a “problem elephant” that had been destroying the crops of a nearby village:

I stand by my decision to help African villagers. I believe elephant management is beneficial. I have the support of the people who really matter in this situation, the families of Zimbabwe — people who need help to survive. I have the support of tribal leaders and the government.

Parsons isn’t totally wrong — there is such a thing as “problem elephants,” and human-elephant conflict is a real issue that needs to be dealt with in parts of Africa. From the World Wildlife Fund (WWF):

Not only are elephants being squeezed into smaller and smaller areas, but farmers plant crops that elephants like to eat. As a result, elephants frequently raid and destroy crops. They can be very dangerous too.

While many people in the West regard elephants with affection and admiration, the animals often inspire fear and anger in those who share their land.

Elephants eat up to 450kg of food per day. They are messy eaters, uprooting and scattering as much as is eaten. A single elephant makes light work of a hectare of crops in a very short time.

But that doesn’t mean the best way to deal with this conflict is for rich foreigners like Parsons to make like Hemingway. There are sensible, nonlethal solutions, including using chili- or tobacco-based deterrents to keep elephants out of farmers’ fields, or the simple method of growing crops that elephants don’t like. WWF has more in this issue brief.

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It’s worth remembering that people bear at least as much responsibility as elephants do for any conflict, as the continuing growth of the human population puts more and more pressure on elephants. The African elephant is hardly thriving — the International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists it as vulnerable. It’s been a long time since shooting an elephant could be considered fashionable.

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See “The New Age of Extinction.”