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.

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  1. Shane says:

    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?

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  2. YX says:

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

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  3. Chris says:

    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.

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  4. Will says:

    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?

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    • JBP says:

      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.

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  5. countryroads says:

    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.

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  6. Laurie Pringle says:

    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?

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  7. JOHN B says:

    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.

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  8. Dave Brooks says:

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

    http://www.savetheelephants.org/news-reader/items/kamanjab-farmers-fed-up-with-destructive-elephants-40namibia41.html

    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.

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