Nation & World

Girl, 12, defends safari trophy kills amid outrage about giraffe and zebra photos

This photo and others of 12-year-old Aryanna Gourdin of Utah posing with her safari kills have stirred up worldwide controversy.
This photo and others of 12-year-old Aryanna Gourdin of Utah posing with her safari kills have stirred up worldwide controversy. Facebook

At 12 years old, Aryanna Gourdin is a skilled and accomplished hunter. The proof can be seen in the photos posted on the preteen’s Facebook page: “Aryanna Gourdin — Braids and Bows.”

In a couple of the most recent ones, she poses with a giraffe she felled, the gun she presumably used leaning up against the animal’s body.

In another she kneels next to a zebra, bow and arrows resting against the dead animal.

She is smiling in all of the photos. But those pictures of the Utah girl have kicked up a worldwide storm of criticism on the Internet. People are so agitated that some have threatened her.

Hunter Rebecca Francis, 41, faced the same backlash last year when comedian Ricky Gervais posted a photo of her lying next to a giraffe she killed.

Gourdin family friend Mark Martineau, owner of Rack Em Up Hunts, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Aryanna and her father, Eli Gourdin, recently went on safari with him, and some of the photos that have people riled up are from that trip.

The Gourdins are out of the country right now, Martineau told the newspaper, but plan to address the controversy when they return.

But Aryanna addressed the backlash in a lengthy essay over the weekend on her Facebook page explaining why she believes the majority of hunters are passionate conservationists and that “trophy hunting isn’t the barbaric hunting of animals” people think it is.

And, she writes, “just because someone chooses to display their ‘trophies’ doesn’t make then a bad person. It represents memories.”

Hunting of endangered species is “actually one of the only things helping them today,” she writes.

“Controversy in the media has sparked a discussion that wasn’t happening mere months ago; about whether or not trophy hunting is good for endangered species. Although there are flaws in the current system, (poachers posing as ethical hunters for example), trophy hunting remains the only effective way to obtain money for conservation efforts.

“In order to hunt an animal such as the African white Rhinoceros (only 5 of which are able to be legally hunted a year), permits are sold for as high as $350,000. What people don’t realize, is that much of this money goes towards conservation efforts.”

She blames the media for focusing on a few animals legally killed instead of hundreds illegally poached every year.

“I am someone who has been around hunting and hunters a good portion of my life. In all my years in the sport of hunting, I have only seen people with the utmost respect towards animals, and many passionate about conservation,” she writes.

“I’ve never personally witnessed anyone I’ve been hunting with, take a shot unless they know with 100 percent certainty that it will be a one shot kill. That’s not to say that there’s not some degree of uncertainty involved, but I think it goes to show that hunters care about an animal’s well-being.”

Aryanna’s photos have unleashed yet another public and heated online debate over the pros and cons of trophy hunting.

It’s a discussion that most recently came to a public head in June 2015 when Cecil the Lion was killed in Africa by Minnesota dentist and trophy hunter Walter Palmer. Cecil’s death sparked an international outcry and closer scrutiny of hunting wild animals for their heads and other parts.

“Trophy hunting is not good for endangered species,” writes one woman on Aryanna’s Facebook page.

“Trophy hunting serves no purpose other than to line the pockets of greedy promoters and outfitters ... corrupt individuals ... hunt on your own soil ... harvest sustainable animals ... if you’re killing endangered animals you’re not part of conservation.

“My family is looking forward to deer season which is just around the corner. Trophy Hunters are bored with killing the animals that are sustainable. Trophy hunting is Despicable. It is Despicable that a child is being used to incite.”