“We are disgusted,” says Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, on GoDaddy CEO Bob Parson’s recent video glorifying his elephant hunt as his way of helping hungry Zimbabweans. “There are other ways of helping the starving Zimbabweans,” says Rodrigues, who also questions whether the elephant was really trampling crops as the video claims.
Zimbabweans needed help even before the current drought. They earn only $400 a year, according to the CIA Factbook. Millions ran to South Africa from the disastrous regime of Robert Mugabe, who destroyed the economy and food supply by seizing farms.
On the video Parsons says a farmer asked the hunting party to kill the three elephants trampling his field. “It’s one of the most beneficial and rewarding things I do,” he brags.
Does Zimbabwe need rich American hunters to shoot random elephants? The safari company charges between $19,200 and $38,835, including a “2 % Government Levy on Safari Rate (Mandatory).” There’s also a $16,000 elephant trophy fee. (I’m not sure if how much he paid there because I don’t know how many he shot and if one was included in the package rate.) The government’s cut is supposed to go toward conservation.
Zimbabwe is actually a bargain in hunting circles: its daily rate is about half that of Zambia next door and a bargain compared with Tanzania, Botswana or Mozambique, a 2009 report by the International Council on Game and Wildlife Conservation. When outfitters get huge elephant quotas, they offer shorter trips (only 10 days) and force the adventurers to shoot elephants of any size, the report says. I don’t know if that was the case with Parsons, but he says he was there for a week.
Rodrigues argues Parsons “could have donated the money he spent on the hunt for food aid but then I don’t suppose that would be as heroic as shooting a defenceless animal.” To be fair, GoDaddy does give away millions to charities, including a lot for animals (along with some for Ted Nugent’s gun nut camp). He’s also a big political donor, mostly to Republicans and oddly GoDaddy even has its own PAC, which raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars in 2010, seemingly all from GoDaddy employees.
And it is true that there are a lot of elephants in the area; they are not endangered and frequently run into human conflicts. But the Zimbabwe hunting and conservation system, like the rest of the Zimbabwe government, is highly suspect. Hunters are supposed to pay huge fees that go to conservation, then the government figures out how many animals are in an area and how many licenses can be sold. “This would be fine if it was done properly but the problem is, the animals are not counted so the numbers of animals allocated on the hunting quotas is often completely unrealistic,” he says.
Hunters or guides may pay bribes to shoot more than their allotment or in a different area, he says. The U.S. State Department maintains a list of businesses Americans need to avoid; Parsons’ guides are not on the list. South African safari trips may smuggle the animals across the border, another report says. Mugabe’s “land reform” scheme disrupted much of the farming and private animal preserve system, so who knows what the “farmland” Parson’s group patrolled was before the landgrab. (Parsons says his hunt was in Labola, a place that doesn’t seem to exist, but is a word for payment for a bride.)
Rodrigues casts doubt on whether this elephant was really menacing crops or the villagers just wanted some bushmeat and didn’t have a gun or the money to pay for the elephant hunting tag. “Some Zimbabweans are hungry but they aren’t stupid,” Rodrigues says. “With people like Parsons around, they know now that all they have to do is complain that they have a problem elephant in the area and a Big Game Hunter will come and solve the problem for them – quite an easy way to get a free meal. It doesn’t even have to be a problem elephant – any elephant will do.”
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