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Big Lame Hunting

Fauxtography: Photographs show female hunters posing with the bodies of giraffes they've killed.

Published Apr 14, 2015

Claim:   Photographs show female hunters posing with the bodies of giraffes they've killed.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, April 2015]

Facebook has recently been inundated with pictures of women hunters posed with dead giraffes. Are they fake or real?

Origins:   Earlier this year as we were trekking through Africa, we passed through Tanzania to investigate some animal-related legends and visit a place that has loomed large in our imaginations ever since we were children: the Serengeti. It was everything we imagined it to be, and more: endless herds of zebra and buffalo stretching across the plains

as far as the eye could see, prides of lions snoozing under trees, elephants with their calves parading across our path, rhinoceros slowly lumbering along the landscape, huge pools in which hundreds of hippos lazed to escape the midday sun, as well as
warthogs, mongooses, hyenas, impala, gazelles, dik-diks, hyrax, and baboons.

Tour operators in that part of the world typically tout that their clients will have an opportunity to view the "Big Five" of African wildlife: the African lion, the African elephant, the Cape buffalo, the African leopard, and the rhinoceros (black or white). We were fortunate enough to see all of these creatures (and more), and to be able to shoot them from up close — with cameras only — including
the one animal that's hardest to miss:

We were somewhat surprised to learn during our trip that the term "Big Five" derives not from the world of tourism (which has co-opted it), but from the world of big-game hunting: it is said to encompass the five African animals most difficult to hunt on foot. We were more surprised to learn that, despite widespread public perception that the "Big Five" (and most other large African wildlife) are all endangered and/or protected by law, there are very few African animals that cannot be legally hunted somewhere on that continent.

We were reminded of our experience in April 2015, when comedian Ricky Gervais posted to his Facebook page a photograph purportedly showing a female hunter posing in recline alongside the carcass of a giraffe she had just killed, along with his rumination about why someone would "want to kill a beautiful animal and then lie next to it smiling":

The comedian didn't provide much background information in his Facebook post, which led many viewers to speculate about the authenticity of the photo. Was the scene staged with a giraffe that died from other causes? Was the giraffe put down for humane reasons? Was the image Photoshopped?

The photograph that Gervais shared has originally appeared on the website RebeccaFrancis.com in August 2010. Although that site did not provide any specific information about that particular image, the site is full of pictures of animals killed in African big game hunts, including lions, zebras, and giraffes. Francis addressed the controversy of being a "big game hunter" in a blog entitled "The True Circle of Hunting":

As a hunter, I am constantly under fire and constantly being labeled a "trophy hunter". What is a trophy hunter? I have put a great deal of thought into the meaning of this. In the dictionary the literal meaning is simply put: "Trophy hunting is the selective hunting of wild game animals". In that case, I AM A TROPHY HUNTER. There is no question that I am extremely selective about the animals I hunt. I feel it is absolutely necessary to hunt older and more mature animals. In a lot of cases, that puts that animal past it's breeding prime and the animal can actually be kicked out of the herd and replaced with a younger, stronger male to introduce new genetics into the gene pool. Consequently, that animal can not only be bullied by the new male, but also be left all alone to suffer until its inevitable death.

I have no desire to shoot an animal, just to shoot it. I admire, respect, and love watching these beautiful creatures.

Ricky Gervais subsequently posted a second photograph on his Facebook page of a female hunter posing with a dead giraffe :

While the specific origins of this photograph are unknown to us, the earliest incarnation we've found appears to have originated with the now-defunct Facebook page of one "Ivy Swanepol":

A similar photograph of a grinning woman posing astride a dead giraffe while holding a high-powered rifle in her hands generated online controversy in March 2014 when it was posted to the Facebook page of Koeshall's World Hunting Adventures taxidermy shop in Wisconsin along with a caption — "We took Shelley out this morning with the thoughts of maybe getting a giraffe. We found this big bull feeding in the trees, and Shelley put 2 good shots in him before he went down. Big mature bull. We have it all here, and we want to share it with YOU":

Regardless of who is pictured in these photographs, there is no good reason to believe that they are not genuine or do not represent what they appear to depict, as giraffes are indeed one of the trophy animals frequently targeted in African big game hunts. Big Game Hunting Adventures of South Africa, for instance, offers safaris on which hunters can bag (among other animals)
baboons, hyenas, buffalo, elephants, giraffe, hippos, impala, leopards, lions, warthogs, wildebeest, and zebras.

Although many animal lovers and wildlife protection groups may decry African big game hunts, they are perfectly legal in places such as South Africa. Moreover, some conservationists have argued that this form of tourism actually helps their cause by providing much-needed revenue for the preservation of more endangered species in the region:

South Africa has a tourism industry that permits people to hunt big game animals such as the elephant, rhinoceros and lion. Many people object to this blood sport. But some argue that hunting big game animals creates income needed to save the country's population of big animals.

It is legal in some African countries to hunt big game. The business brings in a lot of money. A ten-day 'elephant package' could cost U.S. $36,000. Hunting a rhinoceros can cost U.S. $100,000.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has strong words against what it calls the "needless killing of endangered species for trophies." The organization says big game hunting is not sustainable, meaning it cannot be supported over a long period of time. The group also says it provides only short-term economic gains, hurts the area's environmental balance and is morally wrong.

But not all conservationists agree. Some argue trophy hunting may be helping Africa's wildlife. Professor John Hanks is the former head of the World Wide Fund for Nature in South Africa. He says tourism and donations do not provide the billions of dollar needed.

"I think trophy hunting in South Africa is really absolutely essential if we are going to look for long-term future for rhinos in the whole of Africa ... there's hardly a single country anywhere that can afford to run its national parks as they should be run ... Here we are in South Africa, one of the richest countries in the continent, Kruger Park has a million visitors a year and they still cannot afford to defend the rhinos."

The hunting industry in South Africa brings in more than $744 million each year. The industry employs about 70,000 people. And about 9,000 trophy hunters travel to South Africa every year. Ninety percent of them come from the United States. In 2012, foreign hunters spent $115 million in South Africa. Trophy hunting is the most profitable form of commercial land use in the country.

Herman Meyeridricks is the president of the Professional Hunters' Association of South Africa. He argues that legal hunting is important to wildlife protection.

"The only way there will be incentive for those landowners to protect and keep on investing in rhino is if they have an economic value. They can only have an economic value if there is an end-user that is willing to pay for that, and that is the trophy hunter."

One can find plenty of photographs of male big game hunters posing with taken giraffes online, but those images apparently don't stir up as much widespread outrage as similar pictures showing female hunters.

Last updated:   14 April 2015


    Cotroneo, Christian.   "Trophy Hunting: Woman Shoots Giraffe, Poses Triumphantly with Corpse."

    Huffington Post.   24 March 2014.

    Parker, Gilliam.   "Trophy Hunting Is Big Business in South Africa."

    VOA.   16 August 2014.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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