Barely a year on from Cecil the Lion and it seems there's a new Walter Palmer on the scene. But this time, it feels even more creepy. The Internet has started to go into meltdown re the news that a 12-year-old girl named Aryanna Gourdin has posted pictures online with a giraffe and a zebra that she hunted in South Africa. Already being dubbed the schoolgirl slayer, and with a Facebook page called 'Braids and Bows', this story was bound to cause controversy.
Right now, there is a lot of hate and a lot of energy going in Aryanna's direction, and although to many animal lovers and the media this probably feels right, I wonder if we couldn't better use that energy and focus, instead focusing on the wider issue of trophy hunting - or perhaps if I put it in more layman's terms - killing wild animals for the sheer pleasure of killing something big and beautiful.
Whilst Aryanna has described the experience as one of her 'dream hunts' and talked of the 'good times' during the hunt trip, she hasn't mentioned some of the truths behind the pictures. Looking at giraffes specifically, it is estimated that they've lost around 40% of their wild populations in the last 15 years alone. That hardly sounds like they need Aryanna's, or indeed anyone's bows and rifles pointing in their direction right now.
When trophy hunters try to justify their bloodlust, they often talk of conservation or community benefits. In this case Aryanna's proud father was quick to tell the media that the meat from their kills will be given to a local village and 'feed 800 orphans over the next month'. Now, I don't know the village and I am no expert in this particular region, but of the rural African villages I have had the pleasure to visit through my work, I'm not convinced that the local one would have 800 orphans within their population, and if they did, nor would they likely be sat in waiting for the next rich American to come and slaughter their natural resources so they can have some free meat.
Research that IFAW conducted in 2013 in a report called the $200m Question served to debunk some of these community benefit myths, showing that in some cases as little as 3% of the revenue generated by these extremely expensive trophy hunting trips goes back to the local community. So, the standard price to exert one's masculinity, or in this case, one's inner childhood dreams (do kids not play with toys anymore?), is about £10,000 according to reports (though some websites list them as much less). 3% of £10,000 is £300. Doesn't seem like a good deal to me.
Her Dad also played the 'killing one to save another' card, quoting "They actually had an older giraffe that was eating up valuable resources other giraffes need to survive." If you were in Tesco this afternoon and an older lady bought the last fresh baguette would you at any point think it would be good or OK to kill her? Nature has a rather good knack of regulating itself - when resources grow, populations grow, when resources reduce, populations reduce. At no time in the news recently have I heard of young giraffes dying of hunger because the old giraffes were eating all the leaves.
As we know from Cecil and the few others that have made the news recently, it isn't just this giraffe who has taken a hit, literally, for someone else's idea of fun. It's lions, cheetahs, zebras, elephants, hippos, leopards, buffalo, crocodile, wildebeest...you get the idea. And, it isn't just one - it is thousands and thousands every single year. So, we need to refocus and use our anger for good and together we can be the voice that speaks up for these animals and stops this barbaric so-called sport from destroying our planet's wildlife, before it's too late.