Sitting on top of a dead zebra, 12-year-old Aryanna Gourdin’s smile is illuminated by the South African sun as she looks in the direction of the pink arrows that rest against the carcass. A caption for the photo reads, “One of my dram hunts for sure!!” followed by an emoji with hearts for eyes.
The zebra’s snout lays in the dirt. Its eyes are closed.
The young girl from Utah has been at the heart of criticism recently after posting the photo — alongside shots of her posing next to a giraffe and an impala — on social media, inviting a firestorm. Some have called her an “animal hater.” Others say she’s a kid, don’t be so harsh.
Gourdin, for her part, doesn’t seem to bothered by her detractors.
“It’s something that I cherish and I enjoy and I want other people to see what I’ve been able to experience,” she said recently on Good Morning America, defending her recent hunting trip to South Africa. “I’m never gonna stop.”
The criticism makes her just the most recent American big game hunter to take some heat for hunting large animals in Africa. Just over a year ago, the killing of Cecil the lion sparked what was called the biggest global response to a wildlife story ever witnessed. The dentist who shot Cecil was forced to go on a weeks-long hiatus. Nations and airlines reformed their laws and regulations to make big game hunting even harder.
But Gourdin isn’t hiding. Instead, she’s using Facebook to tell her side. In a post, she argued that big game hunting is the only way to finance conservation efforts that keep endangered animal populations alive (or try). Permits for the hunting trips, she said, are expensive and limited.
The big danger, she said, isn’t lawful hunters. Instead, it is poachers pretending that they are above the bar, killing the endangered animals without paying for the permits that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.