ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM 

Parts of Africa are plagued by so-called "problem elephants," which have lost swaths of habitat to human encroachment, spurring them to raid crops and rampage through villages. But apparently now there's a problem CEO on the loose, too: GoDaddy chief executive Bob Parsons has filmed himself killing a bull elephant in Zimbabwe and released the video online, set to AC/DC's "Hell's Bells." Now he's the subject of global scorn and ridicule — and not just because of those annoying GoDaddy Super Bowl ads.

Problem elephants are an actual problem in many places, and the preferred strategy is to repel them, with diverse tactics such as pepper spray, guard donkeys or booby-trapped food. And on Parsons' 10-day adventure in Zimbabwe, most of the elephants he encountered were chased away. But one rogue elephant wouldn't listen to reason, prompting Parsons to decide it had to die. After tracking the animal with a spotlight and fatally shooting it, Parsons posed with the carcass before feeding it to local villagers — still uncomfortably set to "Hell's Bells." This drew predictable outrage from PETA, as well as from many conservation groups and other, less obvious wildlife advocates. The prevailing reaction seems to be that, while some African elephants may require drastic measures to protect crops, it's not the responsibility of Western CEOs to swoop in and kill them. And Parsons' attempt to glorify his killing online and portray it as "rewarding" charity work only seems to have dug him an even deeper hole.

While Parsons gives interviews in hopes of saving his reputation — such as accusing his detractors of hypocrisy for "cutting a steak" at "McDonald" — GoDaddy's critics and competitors are seizing on his misstep. PETA has announced it will close its account with GoDaddy, for example, while rival Web-hosting company NameCheap.com unveiled a special transfer deal for GoDaddy customers. Anyone whose .com, .net or .org domain is registered with GoDaddy can switch to NameCheap for $4.99 (using coupon code "BYEBYEGD"), with 20 percent of the proceeds going to savetheelephants.org.

(Sources: MNN, TIME, San Francisco Chronicle)

FISSION HOLE 

Dangerous radiation from Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has seeped into groundwater as well as seawater, according to plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co., but experts still say most local drinking water and seafood is safe. Nonetheless, as new evidence of leaking radiation continues to surface, it grows clearer how far TEPCO and Japanese officials are from stabilizing the out-of-control reactors. Earlier in the week, high levels of radioactive iodine and cesium were found in a village 25 miles away from Daiichi, forcing Japan to consider expanding its current 18-mile evacuation zone. The country has also sought help from the U.S. and France in battling the reactors' overheating fuel rods. 

On Thursday, groundwater underneath Daiichi was found to contain 10,000 times more iodine-131 than the government allows, raising fears the radioactive isotope could infiltrate drinking water. While it remains unclear how the iodine got into the aquifer — an undiscovered leak seems to exist somewhere, as radiation levels have been spiking in the ocean as well — it could theoretically seep into water wells or even drift farther inland. But that's unlikely, the Guardian reports, since most people have evacuated the area surrounding Daiichi, and groundwater typically flows toward the ocean. Daiichi is on the coast, and when — or if — residents can safely return to their homes, government officials say they'll ensure water supplies aren't radioactive. "When people return to the area we will test the water to make sure it is safe," says Masato Ishikawa, an official with the Fukushima prefecture's food and sanitation division.

High levels of iodine-131 have been reported over a widespread area since Daiichi was overwhelmed by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, but officials have downplayed its threat to public health, since the isotope has a half-life of just eight days. Cesium-137 is another story, though, since it can persist in the environment for hundreds of years. It emits dangerous gamma rays and accumulates in the food chain, and in the village of Iitate, it has been detected at levels twice the minimum found in areas declared uninhabitable around Chernobyl. Most residents of Iitate have already fled, but with some holdouts staying put — and uncertainty growing about possible contamination in other nearby villages — some are calling for Japan to widen its evacuation zone. So far, however, the Japanese government says it has no plans to do so.

(Sources: New York Times, Guardian)

BAT SIGNAL 

America's bats are worth at least $3.7 billion a year, and possibly as much as $53 billion, according to a new study published in the journal Science. That's because the flying mammals' insect-heavy diet reduces pest damage to crops, helping more crops survive without the need for costly pesticides. On average, the researchers estimate bats' value to the U.S. agriculture industry is roughly $22.9 billion every year, give or take several billion. 

"These estimates include the reduced costs of pesticide applications that are not needed to suppress the insects consumed by bats," explains the study's lead author, University of Tennessee biologist Gary McCracken. "However, they do not include the downstream impacts of pesticides on humans, domestic and wild animals and our environment," he adds. "Without bats, crop yields are affected. Pesticide applications go up. Even if our estimates were quartered, they clearly show how bats have enormous potential to influence the economics of agriculture and forestry." As an example, the researchers point out that a single colony of big brown bats in Indiana eats about 1.3 million insects annually — bugs that might otherwise be feasting on farmers' fields.

These findings carry a sense of urgency, though, because U.S. bats currently face a vast and growing existential threat. A disease known as "white-nose syndrome" has killed more than 1 million bats since it first appeared at a New York cave in 2006, and has now spread as far west as Oklahoma and as far north as Canada. Much of Appalachia is already affected, and while biologists scramble to understand the mysterious ailment — which is apparently caused by a fungus — entire populations of bats are dying off. And as the new study reveals, bats aren't the only victims.

(Sources: ScienceDaily, Wired)

COBRA CAUGHT 

Sssafe at last: The escaped Bronx Zoo cobra has been found, ending a five-day snakehunt that captivated New York and much of the world. The adolescent Egyptian cobra was exactly where zookeepers thought it would be, coiled up in a dark corner of the zoo's reptile house. The building had been closed since the cobra went missing a week ago, striking fear into many New Yorkers since cobra venom is highly poisonous. But the cobra crisis spawned some comedy, too, thanks to the @BronxZoosCobra Twitter account, which quickly racked up more than 220,000 followers this week.

Zookeepers searched the reptile exhibit for four days with no success, but felt confident the cobra wasn't really a "snake on the town," as suggested by its tweets. The cobra has entertained its followers by asking things like "Does anyone know if the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle sells organic mice?" or advising that "If you see a bag of peanuts inexplicably moving along the ground at Yankee Stadium today, just ignore it. It's probably nothing." But since snakes are cold-blooded, zookeepers knew the cobra wouldn't survive very long outdoors, as New York has been enduring a chilly week of early spring.

The fruitless search finally came to an end when workers scattered around wood shavings that had been used as bedding for mice. That aroused the cobra's interest enough to draw it out into the open, finally presenting an opportunity to nab the elusive — but Twitter-prolific — snake. "The key strategy here in recovering this snake was patience," zoo director Jim Breheny said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. Now, like many sudden Twitter stars, the cobra is left to mull its next step. "According to the rules of Twitter," it wondered in a recent tweet, "I think I'm supposed to announce a multi-city comedy tour now. Right @ConanOBrien & @CharlieSheen?"

(Sources: Wall Street Journal, Reuters, LiveScienceTwitter)

THIS DAY IN HISTORY

Bisphenol-A found to be harmful, world's largest marine sanctuary established, and more.

Russell McLendon

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Photo (African elephant silhouette at sunset): ZUMA Press

Photo (Fukushima Daiichi plant from above): ZUMA Press

Photo (bat swooping over a pond): ZUMA Press

Photo (Egyptian cobra): Wikimedia Commons

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