Why shoot elephants?

It’s the most effec­tive way to kill them. Any game-keep­er will tell you that. Just as any econ­o­mist will tell you that the most effec­tive way to con­trol obnox­ious behav­iour, like pol­lut­ing the riv­er, or just unde­sir­able behav­iour, like dri­ving your car into the city, is to tax it.

Are there alter­na­tives to shoot­ing? Yes, it would be more humane to kill an ele­phant with, say, large dos­es of bar­bi­tu­rates. It’s not as quick as a bul­let through the heart, but it is less painful and dis­tress­ing. Again, it’s like tax­es. They’re the most effec­tive, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly the best way to deal with pol­lu­tion or city con­ges­tion. For all sorts of rea­sons, tax penal­ties grow weak­er over time and they often have un-desir­able side-effects, like over­load­ing an unpre­pared pub­lic trans­port sys­tem or suck­ing the “life” out of the city and trash­ing prop­er­ty val­ues.

OK. But shoot­ing an ele­phant will kill it, right? Often. But not nec­es­sar­i­ly. They’re pret­ty tough. A small-bore rifle or a glanc­ing shot, or a bul­let that lodges in its rump is no good at all; prob­a­bly make the ele­phant quite cross with you. You have to get every­thing right. It would be as if you banned smok­ing only at restau­rant tables: peo­ple would smoke at the bar and in cor­ri­dors. The room would still be filled with smoke and it would be hard­er for both staff and patrons to move around.

But aren’t you advo­cat­ing that we should shoot ele­phants? Good grief, no! Not at all. I’m just giv­ing you the advice you asked for. But if you decided—or the gov­ern­ment decided—that it was essen­tial

But that’s nuts. In what cir­cum­stance could it ever be “essen­tial” to kill ele­phants? Well, sup­pose, based on the­o­ry that ele­phants nev­er for­get, ani­mal psychologists—we’ll call them “ele­phant whis­per­ers”— built sev­er­al sophis­ti­cat­ed mod­els of ele­phant behav­iour that, on aver­age over many mod­el runs, showed with a “90% cer­tain­ty” (p-val­ue = 0.1) that ele­phants were eas­i­ly rad­i­calised by anti-colo­nial, anti-West­ern, rhetoric and might one day go rogue in big num­bers, tram­pling on the val­ues that we hold so dear…

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