CEO of web hosting giant GoDaddy, Bob Parsons, sparked outrage last week by releasing a video of himself killing an elephant. After it was written about, Parsons got in touch and asked to tell his side of the story.
“I’ve been going to Africa for six years,” he says, “and I progressively became aware of the elephant situation and what a problem it is for the locals.”
The “elephant situation”, he says, has been a problem for local governments and wildlife officials for years. As humans in Zimbabwe struggled to find room to live and farm, they have appropriated land previously inhabited only by wildlife. This has set up a struggle between human needs and animal habits, where subsistence farmers battle wildlife such as elephants to keep their crops from being destroyed.
The issue of human encroachment had driven several hundred of Zimbabwe’s 60,000 to 100,000 elephants out of the country by 2009. But Parsons says elephants are still “very abundant” — at least, according to the villagers whose livelihoods are threatened by elephant herds, which frequently come into a village and trample fields of corn and sorghum.
“In Zimbabwe, the people there are incredibly impoverished,” said Parsons. “They treasure an empty plastic water bottle. It’s heart-wrenching to watch ... These people are all subsistence farmers, and if they don’t have a good harvest, they starve. That’s it — there’s no support, there’s no welfare, and if they starve, they will die.”
To keep elephants from trampling crops, villagers try building fires, banging drums, cracking whips and even building fences. But the light and noise are ignored, and the fences, Parson says, just get trampled. Electric fences, this deep into the African bush, aren’t a realistic solution. Parsons says he hoped to solve the crop-trampling problem for these villagers in a different way.
Why shoot an elephant?
When Parsons was called on for assistance by a local farmer whose fields were being destroyed by a herd of elephants, he says, he had a plan in place. He claims he wanted to avoid shooting elephant cows because of the matriarchal structure of an elephant herd. “Taking a bull has little or no impact on the social structure or herd size,” says Parsons.
“This farmer was desperate,” Parsons says. “He couldn’t get the herd out of his field. He asked us to come and deal with it.”
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