Piers Morgan and PETA Take on GoDaddy CEO (Or the Other Way Around?)

Photo: David De Lossy

Bob Parsons, CEO and Founder of GoDaddy, faces off against Piers Morgan and PETA in a recent video. The issue is simple: Parsons went to Labola, Zimbabwe and killed an elephant, and proudly posted video and photos online. Why? Parsons claims a herd of elephants were wreaking havoc with the crops of local villagers, and that the meat from the killed elephant could feed an African village (literally). I’m guessing (although I’m not sure I care, and he does not say this) that he also is a hunter, and maybe enjoyed the process of the hunt.


Piers Morgan asks “Why not build a fence to protect the crops?” That question, of course, only addresses the first issue, the killing of the elephant to protect the crops.


The second issue naturally relies intensely on a set of tradeoffs: as with any self-generating natural resource, there is a tradeoff between depleting it and letting it grow (assuming there is a goal of keeping it in existence). Communities have tried regulating fishing for years, for just the same type of problem. The interview was clearly a fierce exchange of sound bites and “is so” with responses no more informative than “is not.” I’m entirely sure that whatever your view was going into watching that video, your view will remain the same upon finishing it.


Alas such is the story of many debates, particularly those without facts. So please tell me: are those elephants in fact going extinct, as PETA said? Or are they so plentiful as to require culling, to simply maintain a reasonable quantity of elephants without them overtaking the land?


The search for hard facts to move beyond old debates is one of the themes of a book I recently co-wrote with Jacob Appel, More Than Good Intentions. So in the spirit of the search for evidence to answer policy questions, let me offer a free giveaway: the commenter who links us to the best analysis, with data, to answer the Piers Morgan/PETA/Bob Parsons debate gets a free copy of our book. That offer goes to Piers Morgan/PETA/Bob Parsons, too, of course.


Meanwhile, one further thought. There is another argument Parsons could have made, but it probably would not have been too popular. He could point out how hypocritical we often are in how we choose which animals to go “aaawwww” over and which to go “eh, who cares” over. (Most) people halfway around the world don’t get any pleasure out of knowing that there are tons of fish off the coast of Mozambique, but they do get pleasure from knowing that there are lots of elephants roaming around. The charismatic mega-fauna, as they are often called, get far more protection than other animals, relative to their contributions to the evolutionary gene pool (at least that is what I’ve been told, remember of course I’m an economist, not an evolutionary scientist). Obviously this hypocrisy can be corrected one of two ways: we can care more about the animals we think of as boring, or we can care less about the ones that make us go ga-ga.


Great point about the charismatic megafauna. It occurred to me once that most people are gleefully supportive of human attempts to eradicate diseases like malaria or smallpox, yet these also involve the deliberate destruction of entire species.

...But I've no numbers to win your book!

A side point, about the nature of such debates. I've noticed that online discussions can, when carefully moderated, be much more constructive than televised debates between "experts". Partly this is because online posters demand, and can usually give, REFERENCES to their points. I wondered if this could be used in political debates somehow: perhaps debators literally sit in front of computers and can request sources for claims made by political opponents?


I will just assume PETA is silly until you know... they stop being silly.


Zimbabwe elephant population estimate: http://www.zimparks.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=87:aerial-survey-count-in-mid-zambezi-valley&catid=10:in-the-news&Itemid=29

Kenyan elephant population estimate: http://www.awf.org/content/headline/detail/4068

This may not be the best comparison, considering the geographical difference between the two countries, but the articles make two points that I can see. First, elephant populations in both countries are on the rise due to successful attempts to prohibit poaching. Second, the elephant population in Zimbabwe is significantly higher. Considering where Bob Parsons did his killing, I can't imagine that the elephant population was in significant danger to a single kill.

Wish I could provide more, but I have macro class to attend.


I also see this in an imperialist light. Does an African village really need the help of a western CEO to kill an elephant? If this really was a nuisance, wouldn't they have killed the elephant themselves a long time ago?


No, they do not need their help to kill the elephant. But the economy no doubt benefited from the $20,000 to $50,000 the CEO spent for the opportunity.


African elephants are not technically "endangered." Rather, according to the The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), they are vulnerable, which is the level right below endangered. Here is the IUCN info for African elephants: http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/12392/0 (Asian elephants, however, are endangered [http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/7140/0]. The rule of thumb is that there are about 500,000 African elephants left and only about 50,000 Asian elephants.)

In addition, here is some background on the IUCN: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IUCN_Red_List

Bob Parsons' explanation that he was culling the herd would be laughable if it were not so serious. Human-elephant conflict (HEC) is a serious problem in many areas where both elephants and humans live. You can find a scholarly article on the issue here: http://research.eeescience.utoledo.edu/lees/Teaching/EEES4760_07/Hoare.PDF, and some basic info on the topic here: http://www.elephantcare.org/humanele.htm, here: http://www.eleaid.com/index.php?page=humanelephantconflict, and here: http://www.african-elephant.org/hec/index.html.

As described in this post, there are many non-lethal ways to address the issue. Fences are one way, although elephants can often just break them down. Other approaches involve string fences dipped in a mixture of chili powders and other irritants, which the elephants learn to avoid. Electric fences can also be used.

In some cases, HEC is addressed by culling specific animals. But, this should always be a last resort, and targeted animals are culled. In addition, the culling is done by locals or professionals, not thrill-seeking tourists like Parsons.

Hopefully this high-visibility incident will call attention to the very real problem of HEC. But, I fear that it will likely result in widespread condemnation of Parsons, without any real attention paid to the plight of these very important animals.



Really? Then who do this: http://www.news.colostate.edu/Release/1307

Laurie Pringle

Culling any animals - regardless of how cute (or not) they are is a last resort. Over population (these days) typically comes from human encroachment and commercialization of land resources. We create these issues, and it behooves us to take every opportunity to seek out humane ways to manage situations where people and animals clash.

There are a variety of options that would have been an option to at least try... Zimbabwe says they don't have the money to deal with their elephant populations using fertility control. Well gee - maybe Mr. GoDaddy should've pony'd up some $$ to support that, instead of joyfully and proudly ending the life of a remarkable creature.

Oh and as to cuteness.. really? You think elephants are cute?


I am not a hunter and I do not like the killing of animals. However, I believe that the well-being of people has to come before animals. If villagers in Africa are losing their food supply to elephants, that is a serious matter to those villagers.

It appears that before the elephant was shot, Piers and friends couldn't be bothered with the welfare of the native population and their problems.

"Build a fence"? A fence large enough and strong enough to stop elephants would have probably cost more than the villagers could ever afford. Be realistic.

Dave Brooks

Overpopulation of elephants and damage to farmers is a real problem in some places - e.g., around Etosha national Park in Namibia.


Trying to keep elephants away from crops is a non-trivial exercise - they are huge beats. Building a fence would be staggeringly expensive; among the ideas to keep them out I have read about are hot peppers and recordings of bees. which they hate.


Building a fence is not a realistic option for the elephant problem. Even if someone paid for a fence, it will still have to be maintained for it to be effective long term. There is little incentive for a subsistence farmer to take time away from his crops and repair a fence, especially when they don't have the tools to do so. Fences also impede human mobility and they will create gaps and weak points to allow humans and their livestock to pass through.

I really don't have a problem with hunting to control animal populations, but the video was in bad taste. It is pretty obvious that Bob Parsons cared more about bragging that he killed an elephant than the plight of the villagers.


I don't know if elephants are on the verge of extinction, and thus if they require protection, but I don't agree with one part of the argument. I'm sure most experts ont the matter would agree that the biodiversity value of an elephant cannot be compared with a species of sardines. It is not just about how cute they are, elephants are singular, exceptional creatures. And it is not true that only “aaawwww” animals draw attention: bluefin tuna is nothing but cute, but nevertheless environmentalists are very concerned about it.

Stuart Lynne

I'm not against hunting per se but I am against most forms of harvesting of natural resources. We've proven (for the most part) that you cannot scale up production from wild stocks of anything. And there is never enough protection from overuse until the stocks are depleted to the point of near extinction.

In the case of elephants this is a case of expanding human populations who are still relying on inefficient farming methods to live and that is expanding into areas that the elephants need for their survival. Then you get a clash.


African tourism is driven by these sorts of things. People go and spend a great deal of money for the right to shoot an elephant. Given that, I really think that we should view this as a market economics question. Let Africa find its equilibrium point for hunting on preserves. Hunt to the point that the elephant can sustain itself, but don't overhunt so that it can't replenish its numbers.

The important question is not should people be restricted from hunting or not. The questions should be what is the efficient price level that will achieve an amount of hunted elephants that are replenished at an adequate level.


I couldn't agree more Jared. I can envision some sort of pricing where when the population starts getting low the cost for hunting an elephant goes way up and if there becomes too many then the price adjusts downward. Tourists who can afford to hunt big game are probably also spending a lot of money on a nice hotel, dinner, etc.


The hypocrisy argument is a lame strawman, at least when directed at environmental and animal rights organisations. Just because endangered fish weren't brought up in the discussion between Parsons and PETA doesn't mean PETA doesn't care.

Sure, members of the general public may on occasion be hypocritical - eating certain types of meat whilst protesting the hunting of certain other types for example - but the general public has a lot on their plate. They don't necessarily have the time nor the resources to work out which particular breed of tuna is ok to eat and which is going to be gone in 10 years.

But something about exploting a poor and lawless country in order to take pleasure in the killing of a vulnerable icon resonates and speaks truth to the public.


Check out this funny video PETA made: http://meat.org


A different approach..
Considering we are all acceptant of the concept of survival of the fittest and assuming that fittest doesn't only mean the physically bigger or stronger but also (or rather more so) the mentally more able, by way of social logic, cunning, intelligence etc. We could come to the obvious conclusion that elephants (even though in a different habitat) are fitter than the fish as is Bob Parsons fitter than the elephant and so all is normal by way of evolution (not implying that Bob Parsons is a super evolved tuna!)
BUT it is interesting to see that while what separates us (humans) from other animals is qualities such as the need for religion, belief in the soul, empathy, consideration etc. It is none other than us (yes humans) who most blatantly out of all species trespass upon those very qualities. In the name of some of them we commit crimes (even murder) or start wars (religion?), better even we use them as excuses to commit atrocities such as honing our torture skills (inquisitions) or a CEO flying thousands of miles to kill an elephant to save and feed a group of villagers that if that very CEO found them begging for food at his door step, would probably call the police to take them away.
Therefore my answer is a question, what does the mostly unique quality of killing purely for pleasure say about us humans?
Oh and one last question. Please indicate the fairness is a species of 6 billion discussing whether 500k or 1 million is a sufficient species quantity for killing or protecting....



I think the issue of different animals being treated differently has primarily to do with familiarity with that animal. We find it abhorrent to kill dogs because they are our pets, but many people are fine with hunting coyotes which are close relatives. Elephants are zoo animals and are in the circus, so we like them.

That said, elephants are highly intelligent, social creatures. From an ethical perspective they are capable of suffering and mourning the suffering of others in a way Alaska king crabs are not. This must be taken into account when determining how to deal with a pest animal. While elephants are not, and should not be treated the same as humans, we would nevertheless be outraged if Parsons had shot and killed a member of a neighboring village that had been raiding the food of the villagers he visited.

While it would be effective, and potentially profitable to allow rich westerners to hunt african villagers for sport in order to prevent them from stealing food, it is still wrong. The suffering of the elephant and the herd must be considered in this case.

PETA is absurd in their execution, but striving for ethical treatment of animals is a noble cause. We must not ignore the suffering of wild animals simply because, from an economic perspective killing them makes sense.


Joshua Northey

I never understood the attraction of hunting something with anything other than tools you made yourself. Hunting with manufactured tools just doesn't seem very sporting. I find the idea of flying to another country to shoot something like an elephant downright bizarre.

That said I don't see what is wrong with it. There is nothing intrinsically valuable about elephants, and they will go extinct eventually whatever we do. I find the whole movement to preserve things hard to understand as it is doomed to failure. Nature itself isn't a preservationist.

We could nuke this planet to within an inch of its life and in a few million years it would be humming along again like nothing ever happened, just with a slightly different set of organisms. How can we possibly be concerned with harming something so resilient?

We should be much more concerned with harming the planet's ability to support us. That is what is in danger, and not from species extinctions (which are relatively unimportant).