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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