Killing of African Giraffe Sets Off Anger at ‘White American Savage’ Who Shot It

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The dead giraffe is curled up on the ground in souvenir photographs. The American woman who killed it during a guided hunt in South Africa is nestled in the curve of the animal’s long neck, clutching her long gun and pointing at the sky in gratitude.

That was last year. But in June, the photographs found new life online when they were published by Africlandpost, an online news organization that covers social and political issues in Africa. It posted a critical message on Twitter saying the animal was a rare black giraffe exploited by a “white American savage.”

“If our so-called governments can’t care for our wildlife then it’s time we stand up,” a second tweet said, urging readers to share the image and take responsibility for the continent’s lands, resources and wildlife.

“Let’s have a united voice against pillage of Africa, it’s the only home we have,” it said.

The post with the photographs, published on June 16, was pinned to the top of the @africlandpost account. Since then, it has been shared tens of thousands of times and incurred thousands of comments as part of an online debate about big-game trophy hunting fueled by conservation groups, hunting advocates and groups that are against the killing of animals for sport, or for any reason.

It was not immediately clear why the photographs, which the woman had originally published on social media, resurfaced this year. Africlandpost did not respond to an email on Tuesday.

But the images generated a furor reminiscent of the killing of Cecil the Lion, who was lured off his sanctuary by a Minnesota dentist, Walter J. Palmer, during a game hunt in Zimbabwe in 2015. Protesters staked out his office and residence, and Dr. Palmer, a longtime hunting enthusiast, later apologized for killing Cecil.

He was one of many big-game hunters who have become targets online.

“These public outrages are very much in line with public opinion surveys showing an overwhelming majority of the American public opposes trophy hunting,” said Iris Ho, the wildlife programs manager for Humane Society International.

The hunter in the giraffe photographs was identified as Tess Thompson Talley of Kentucky by news organizations that said she had emailed them to defend herself. Her full given name was listed in public records as Tunessa. She could not be reached on Tuesday.

The photographs included one of her pointing to the sky while she was encircled by the animal’s corpse during the hunting trip Ms. Talley took in June 2017, The Courier-Journal of Kentucky reported.

“Prayers for my once in a lifetime dream hunt came true today!” she said in a Facebook post that has apparently since been deleted, the newspaper reported. She said she had stalked the animal and later got “2,000 lbs. of meat from him.”

In emails to news organizations this week, Ms. Talley said the giraffe was a “subspecies” that is increasing in number “due, in part, to hunters and conservation efforts paid for in large part by big game hunting.”

“The breed is not rare in any way other than it was very old,” she wrote in an email to Fox News. “Giraffes get darker with age.”

She said that the animal, at 18 years old, was too old to breed, and that it had killed three younger breeding bulls. (Wild giraffes have a life span of about 25 years.) Now, with the older giraffe dead, the younger bulls can breed and increase the population, she said.

“This is called conservation through game management,” Ms. Talley added in her email to Fox.

Ms. Ho said that giraffes can breed beyond 18 years of age, and that two subspecies are endangered. “Trophy hunting of an imperiled species in our view is not sustainable,” she said. “Trophy hunters go over there to kill for bragging rights, and not for conservation.”

Ms. Talley also wrote in the email that she had been getting threats. “If it was any other belief that was different, threats and insults would be deemed hideous,” she said. “However, for some reason it is O.K. to act this way because it’s hunting.”

The online backlash was propelled by celebrities including Ricky Gervais and Debra Messing, who condemned the killing in social media posts.

The giraffe is listed as vulnerable on the international Red List of Threatened Species because of a population decline of 36 percent to 40 percent over three generations, or from between 150,000 and 164,000 giraffes in 1985 to fewer than 98,000 in 2015. The main reasons include habitat loss, civil unrest and illegal hunting.

Advocates say that if hunting is regulated by governments, it can be beneficial to the local population and an efficient conservation effort.

“Hunters hunt them because hunters like to hunt,” said Rick Parsons, the chief executive of Safari Club International, who said people in his organization had spoken with Ms. Talley. “The conservation is a result of taking this desire to hunt and managing it. That’s the key concept in wildlife conservation today.”

Dr. John Hanks, a zoologist and the former director of the Africa program for the World Wildlife Fund, a leading conservation organization, said that hunting could be a powerful tool to generate funds for conservation. But he said that photographs of hunters with the animals they have killed could be “unfortunate.”

“There are hunters who hunt ethically, and it’s always the bad side that gets blown up out of all proportion,” he said. “Unfortunately, the critics climb on the people who make the mistakes, and vilify everyone for being in the same boat.”

Kimon de Greef contributed reporting from Cape Town, South Africa.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A9 of the New York edition with the headline: Killing of African Giraffe Stirs Anger at ‘White American Savage’. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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