The killing of an elephant who had been raiding farmers’ crops during a hunting expedition in Zimbabwe by GoDaddy.com CEO Bob Parsons (who posted a video of the hunt) has prompted an outcry from opponents.

PETA notes that is is canceling its account with Go Daddy and calls for others to do the same. Competitors, such as Namecheap.com, Domain.com, and Fat Cat Servers, are offering to transfer domains, and make contributions to Save the Elephants or related organizations.

Many opponents have also suggested alternative means to control problem elephants and provide food for destitute Zimbabwean farmers. PETA says “Parsons is hiding behind the lame claim that killing elephants helps farmers in Africa whose crops are damaged by the animals. In fact, there are ample effective and nonlethal methods to deter elephants from crops, including using chili-infused string and beehives on poles to create low-cost “fences.” Instead of coming up with flimsy excuses for killing these highly intelligent and social animals, Parsons should use his wealth to fund humane solutions to human/elephant conflicts.”

Many of these same comments and suggestions of alternative mechanisms have been echoed by individuals postings on Parsons’ blog.  In response, Parsons writes:

  • it’s “much better to shoot it and let starving villages eat it”
  • “Any idea what it takes to relocate an angry 5 ton elephant?”
  • “The people at change.org are telling me that instead of shooting elephants destroying fields I should put a bee hive in the field or a line covered with chili pepper. Both ridiculous suggestions. I wonder how many of those people from change.org will be on their way to Zimbabwe with bee hives and chili pepper covered string during the next harvest. My guess is none. I also would guess that none have ever been there. Should the folks at change.org go to Zimbabwe with their bee hives and chili pepper lines, my guess is they’ll return with a tusk in their ass and some very pissed off villages and farmers in their wake.”
  • “Unless you have been there and are willing to spend the cash, and it’ll be an enormous sum, shooting a few rogue elephant to feed the starving locals seems to be the best solution.”
  • “No amount of money I could contribute would make much of a difference. I will also point out that most of the people who think it would have been better to let villagers starve to death aren’t doing anything to help the situation.

While the situation is admittedly complicated, and conflicts between elephants and farmers is widespread, Parsons is no expert in this field. Perhaps because of his own biases, he dismisses alternatives out of hand saying his solution is the best.  In practice, however, many alternatives have been proven successful.  National Geographic describes how chili peppers can be an easy, cost-effective means of warding off elephants without harming them. Elephants don’t like capsaicin, the chemical in chilies that makes them hot. That keeps them out of the field. Meanwhile, the chili peppers also provide farmers with a cash crop.

There are other methods that work. The angry buzzing of bees (both recorded and live) deters elephants. Most important, management changes can make a difference in mitigating this human-wildlife conflict. In Cambodia, for example, retribution killings of elephants have been successfully prevented by ensuring that the frustrations of local people are promptly addressed by government decision makers.

The bottom line is that, as people continue to expand into places previously dominated by elephants, the problem will continue. The question is, does hunting the problem elephants do more harm than good?