Will the “global” furore over GoDaddy CEO’s canned elephant hunt really lead to a boycott of his company?

Last week when Bob Parsons, CEO of the Internet domain company boasted of his latest kill, and posted pictures and video of himself posing with a gun and a prone elephant on his Twitter site, outrage ensued. Parsons claims that the elephants he shot, on his yearly visits to Zimbabwe, are rogues who destroy crops. (The media, probably tired of Libya’s inconclusive civil war and under pressure to focus on something else other than Donald Trump’s bigotry and advertising strategy, made this the big story by week end last week.)

As Parsons reminded journalists, he donates the meat to starving villagers who are so poor that they vie for the “treasured” plastic water bottles (which he takes with him to avoid “Montezuma’s revenge, as he clarifies) from which he drinks. They also like the cheap GoDaddy baseball hats he hands out.

People are especially upset with the “villagers” who are seen skinning and butchering the “precious creatures who are trying to live out their lives.” The coverage—conducted at the usual high-pitched level for which Nancy Grace is known—is annoying.

Unpacking all the nonsense would take days. Especially because the two other elephants vying for space in the room are not even mentioned:

a) Canned hunting:  GoDaddy was accompanied by a “team”–basically professional hunters –but none of the coverage is about that.

b) The political context: no mention is made of Zimbabwe as an autocratic state, and nothing is said about the corruption involved in the trade of ivory.

In the CNN interview, Parsons is not shy about saying that he’ll return to Zimbabwe to hunt elephant in the coming years, but is careful, beforehand, to highlight his role as saviour.

“I go there every year…They are subsistence farmers…there’s no food stamps, there’s no welfare…one of the problems they have to deal with are elephants—problem elephants—destroying their fields.  They try dealing with it using fire, beating drums, and cracking whips, hollering, and the elephants ignore them. So what it takes is…a guy like me, and there’s just a few of us to go into the field at night when the herd is there, isolate a bull, shoot the bull, the rest leave immediately. They don’t return, so the crops are safe. And then the people have a very valuable source of protein.”

How did Parsons learn about this problem? Not by going with a planned hunting party, he assures the interviewer; and no fees are involved in taking care of “problem elephants.” But he does “pay [his] own expenses,” including those associated with “guides, skinners, trackers, government agents.” Parsons learned about the “problem” elephants “by going there, talking to the villagers.” The shame here, according to Parsons, is that the villagers’ voices are not being heard. “If you talk to them, they would say, “Please come back,” and “Please do this again.”

However, others were involved in Parson’s yearly success. The African Safari Company is one of the outfits that helped can this “rogue elephant” for the pot and for the mantelpiece. These self-pronounced ‘proud Zimbabweans’ (apparently not all whites have fled Zim—this lot looks like they hit the jackpot) advertise “Big Game Hunting in unfenced Africa” as an adventure that offers “sheer joy…and the fun of being in a situation where ones’ wits and woodsmanship are put to the test daily.” Just how much of the paying visitor’s wits and wodsmanship are put to the test as they hunt lion, crocodile, buffalo and plainsgame is hard to tell. (But the company’s punctuation, mechanical and grammatical skills sure look like they’ve been put to the test, and not passed.)

Ian Gloss, owner of the company, assures us that he “advocates high moral principals in such a way that you will be ensured of extremely fair chase, respectful hunting; whereby concentration is directed towards the appreciation of the principles of hunting.  He believes it is more about honest hunting than simply trophy size and quantity.” Though the image shows a portly man who looks like he’s had his fair share of liquor and braaivleis, the PR tells us that Ian continues to conduct “dangerous game hunting safaris.” We also learn that Ian, along with “Steven his trusty Tracker” (Steven is not given a surname, a page, or a photo on the “Staff Profiles”) has “extensive elephant hunting experience,” which requires that the hunter is in “good physical condition and stamina” for the possible 20 kilometre walks necessary to track the animal.

Of course Parsons went on a canned hunt—so did Big Papa Hemingway. It’s just our romance that the Big Papas of the west have been solitary, skilled hunters who knew not only their prey and the landscape, but themselves so well that other company was unnecessary. This GoDaddy is just a reproduction of that same fairytale. And what’s the allure of the solitary hunt? The desire to dance in the face of terror and death: in “killing” the thing that threatens the hunter’s life, the hunter ceremonially displays victory over death.

But the White Hunters of the 20th Century wanted security, comfort, and safety—so the entourage always accompanied them, ensuring victory over death, without ever really needing to learn the skills necessary for such a feat of facing mortality, nor partaking in the ceremonial aspects of belonging to place, people, and animal world—thusly recognising the sacrifice necessary (for the animal) for us to do this game with death. The meat is obviously always “donated” to the band, because the hunters do not eat the whole animal. However, the classic White Hunter is there for the death-trophy/scalp (skin, tusks, head) as proof of power and virility – without having embarked on the journey necessary for developing the skills. Such a ‘corrupted’ hunt is not about providing for the mortal and immortal body, but for the egotistical body; the meat has little to do with this sort of hunter’s quest.

GoDaddy must now invent the “humanitarian reason” soundbite, because his game looks bad, even if the effectiveness of shooting elephants (even via organised culling) to ‘protect’ villagers’ farmland has always been questioned by those who have actually been seeking solutions on the ground. GoDaddy’s yearly slaughter of a “problem” elephant or two probably does nothing to “protect” the sorghum crop.

Why are so many Americans upset? Parsons says that the “reaction is not as negative” though most Americans “quite often want to put our heads in the sand…and have a Pollyanna outlook on the world.” The real problem, he says, is “this politically correct cadre that is a minority that is very vocal…who move as a ‘tsunami’” while “the silent majority” understands that people need to eat and have their crops protected—by “lone” white hunters, on their yearly canned hunts. Parsons will be returning to highlight the poverty of Zimbabweans, some of whom “walked 25 miles to get to that elephant,” and provide them a meal next year. “Unfenced Africa” (read “lawless” or “place where I can get away with doing things I’ll be prosecuted for elsewhere”) allows him the opportunity to live without self-reflection or the pesky necessity of understanding why certain “boundaries”  (self-maintained or state-imposed) are a significant part of ethical conduct.

In any case, companies are already stampeding outta there: Namecheap.com announced that it raised $20,000 for Save The Elephants by offering a special rate for those who wanted to transfer out of GoDaddy to their servers for just $4.99. Estimate: 20,000 GoDaddy customers migrated their domains to Namecheap, earning the company $80,000 for facilitating the transfers already.
20% from each transfer was donated.

Further Reading