GoDaddy CEO: Elephant hunts help the locals

Elephant possess brains that are bigger than any other land animal. What's more, the cortex of an elephant brain has <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant_intelligence">as many neurons as a human brain.</a> Like humans, elephants must learn about their environment and their ability to learn behavior is formidable. They also also display remarkable self awareness - to the point where they can recognize themselves in mirrors. </p><p> The latest surprise about elephants came just this week, when scientists <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/03/07/scitech/main20040321.shtml?tag=mncol;lst;1 ">discovered</a> that elephants successfully performed during an experiment commonly used with primates to test their understanding of cooperation. In this particular test, the elephants had to coordinate their efforts so that each could get a bucket of corn. They passed with flying colors. </p><p>"In the wild, elephants are known for remarkable displays of helping, empathy and compassion," Joshua Plotnik, a comparative psychologist at the University of Cambridge in England and head of elephant research for the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation in Chiang Saen, Thailand, said. "They are a very social animal, so this demonstration of complex cooperation fits well with what we know about their natural lives." CBS/Getty Images

Over the years, GoDaddy has reveled in the controversy generated by its racy Super Bowl ads, which have generated a level of buzz other Internet domain-hosting companies would kill for.

Not this time.

On Thursday, Bob Parsons, the company's chief executive, came under sharp criticism after videos of him hunting big game in Zimbabwe went viral. One clip shows Parsons on vacation this year bagging an elephant (warning: the video is graphic.) An earlier video from 2009 shows him in pursuit of a leopard that ultimately gets shot dead.

For whatever reason, the videos - which were posted publicly for the last three years - only this week began attracting much attention. They also sparked a call by PETA to boycott GoDaddy until Parsons agrees to abandon the annual hunts.

The animal rights organization sent Parsons an email presenting him with the group's first-ever "Scummiest CEO of the Year Award." If they make good on sending the certificate, however, Parsons said he plans on framing the award in his office.

"I couldn't be any better," he told CBSNews.com in an interview. "The blowback - you've got to look at who it's coming from: a small but very, very vocal group that moves in unison, inspired by PETA. Very few of them are our customers."

One former customer is PETA, which said it canceled its account with GoDaddy in protest. Tracy Reiman, PETA's executive vice president, accused Parsons of acting like the "Great White Hope" for African villagers. She challenged Parsons' claim that shooting elephants was the right way to manage local herd populations and said there were non-lethal methods that have proven effective at deterring elephants from destroying crops.

But Parsons brushed aside the criticism as misinformed.

"I think that most people when they see this video will understand what's happening," he continued. These people are on the brink of starvation; they need their crops and need to eat. Elephants are not endangered and probably there are too many of them. A lot of people are up in arms about this. Their hearts are in the right place but they don't understand the situation. If they'd go on one of my trips to Zimbabwe, they'd understand."

Parsons, who has proven deft at knowing how far to push the envelope with GoDaddy advertisements, said he does not expect the furor over his elephant hunts to negatively impact the company's brand.

"I expect sales will go up," he said. "The reason is that first of all, the average American is a very good individual who understands that people need to eat. They know there is a circle of life and they don't much care for political correctness. When they see this, people who are not familiar with GoDaddy will check us out. It'll be a good thing."

"People over there have a problem with problem elephants. They try to drive them out by beating drums, lighting fires, cracking whips but the elephants have learned to ignore them. The way to deal with it is with a few guys like me, who go through that and deal with it on behalf of these people," he said. Parsons added that the hunts were designed to help control the population and were targeted at male, or bull elephants.

"The bulls stay separate from the herd. So when you shoot the bull, it has no impact on social structure - and people get to eat," he said. "You talk about appreciative! When I go (to Zimbabwe) they can't thank me enough and they greet me with open arms."

He said he no longer plans to pursue leopards since it requires too much time and that would take away from the elephant hunts.

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