GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons ignited an Internet firestorm when he uploaded a video of himself hunting and killing an elephant in Zimbabwe. What video? That would be this one:
So is Parsons sorry for the elephant hunt—or at the very least, sorry that he put it up on the Internet? Absolutely not, as an uncontrite Parsons told me in an interview Friday night:
Am I rocked over it? No. Am I sad that I put it up. No. Do I plan to do it again? Yes.
Parsons insists—as he has from the beginning of this mini-controversy—that he was doing the poor people of Zimbabwe a service by participating in a safari hunt to kill what he terms a “problem elephant” that had been destroying farmers’ crops. This wasn’t the first time Parsons had participated in such a hunt—he says he’s killed buffalo, antelope and other animals in Africa, before moving up to the elephant:
I gradually became aware of the problem elephants through talking with my friends there, and the problems they were having with their fields and crops being destroyed. I was seeing people on the brink of starvation, or actually starving. So I was invited by the tribal council to participate in a problem elephant control team and that is what I did. That’s what’s on the video.
This isn’t the first time Parsons has participated in an elephant hunt—in fact, it’s not even the first time he put a video of himself doing so online. Here’s another one from last year:
As I pointed out in my first post, no one is arguing that wildlife-human conflict isn’t real or a serious issue in places like rural Africa—or that there’s no such thing as a “problem elephant.” Instead of hunts, though, most conservation groups advise non-lethal measures, like having farmers use chili near their crops. (Like me, elephants don’t really have a taste for spicy food.) But Parsons says those methods are, well, stupid:
The non-lethals ways they mention border on the ridiculous. Moving into a field with a beehive, or using chili-infused string or low-cost fencing. Who will pay for that fencing, and how do you get it up and will the government even let you do it? None of those are practical? What does make sense is going into a field and catching a herd and shooting a bull [elephant] and making a point. This isn’t random wildlife bloodlust. This is very selective and surgical. Shooting a bull makes the rest of the herd leave—and the people get an available source of protein.
Except, not really. I spoke to Barney Long, the manager of the Asian species conservation programs for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and he told me that non-lethal measures can and do work, for elephant and other human-animal conflict. Yes, elephants can be dangerous to human beings—they can and do kill people—but that doesn’t mean the only solution is to hunt them down, even surgically, as Long told me:
The ultimate solution is probably better planning, where elephants are taken into account in development planning. You have to make sure they have enough to eat, and then they can be taken care of without damaging development. That’s the ideal solution.
Long admits that such smart development planning isn’t always possible—especially in a desperately poor country like Zimbabwe. In that case, there are short-term interventions that can work without bloodshed on either side:
There are local community interventions that can work. You can use loud noises or pepper spray or carry around elephant torches. Electric fences can work very effectively in keeping elephants out of human fields. You can actually stop the elephants from getting to these vital resources without damage to either population.
The scary thing is that human-elephant conflict—like conflict between humans and wildlife generally—is on the rise, thanks to expanding human population and the loss of animal habitat through deforestation and agriculture. Put simply, humans are taking the space of wildlife, as Long told me:
More than likely this will get worse. This is an issue leading to the end of many elephant herds. One solution may be to get rid of the elephant, which often happens in reality, but which is hardly a win win. Over time, this is going to get worse.
Parsons told me he spent $60,000 to $70,000 for his elephant safari. That’s obviously money that could have gone to any number of organizations that deal with human-wildlife conflict, like WWF, the Wildlife Conservation Society or Conservation International. Or, if Parsons wanted to directly help the people of Zimbabwe, he could have donated money to an NGO like Operation Bootstrap Africa, which has a five-star rating from the watchdog Charity Navigator. To his credit, Parsons has donated $1 million to help earthquake victims in Haiti, but he says there’s no one trustworthy to give his money to in Zimbabwe. “Who would I give it to?” Parsons asks. “The political climate in Zimbabwe is just too dicey.”
Fine. You’re not going to get Parsons to admit any wrongdoing, or for that matter, any damage to his business, which he believes has been helped by all the controversy:
For anyone leaving GoDaddy, someone new has come. It has had minimal impact—and probably overall, I see it as a net positive. All publicity is good publicity if you’re on the right. I can’t quantify it for you. I didn’t do this to promote GoDaddy. But the average American is a reasonable individual, and they see this for what it is. They can see past the PC bulls**t. When the only argument [critics] have is to ridicule me, that’s when I get a customer.
America, it’s up to you. If a CEO posting a video of oneself shooting and killing an elephant—an elephant that is a vulnerable species, one step away from being considered endangered—ends up paying off for his business, well, then punch my ticket for Canada.
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