A group of New Zealand rugby players are coming under fire for photos of them posing with dead animals after a hunting trip in South Africa this past Spring.
Crusaders Tom Taylor, George Whitelock, Sam Whitelock, Ben Funnell, and Tyler Bleyendaal are pictured with various dead animals in South Africa. Once the pictures started to spread online, they were met with intense criticism.
The photos were originally posted on the Facebook page for the Landmark Foundation, an environmental organization that, as Director Dr. Bool Smuts notes, is “against the whole concept of trophy hunting.”
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“If it was a biological intervention on a professional basis ... for management of species and biodiversity we can understand that,” said Smuts. “When these people [hunters] come out they want to hunt the thing with the biggest horns, the most dominant males usually because they are the good trophies, so the natural selection is not natural at all.”
It appears as though big game hunting is perfectly legal, but even still, many people were disturbed to see the players posing next to the bodies of a zebra, a gemsbok, a blesbok and an eland.
Now, All Blacks player Sam Whitelock is defending the photos, saying that he and his teammates don’t think they did anything wrong.
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"[We] made sure we didn't shoot something for fun because that's not what we are about - it's something I feel very strongly about,” said Whitelock, who claims they used the dead animals for meat. “It's [hunting] something that I've been brought up with my whole life, my mum and dad are farmers. When we were little fellas, [we were] shooting ducks and things like that.”
Crusaders chief executive Hamish Riach defends the players, saying that the hunt took place while the players were in South Africa back in April and maintained that they were “performing a perfectly legal activity in their own time.”
“I guess the point is that there are things that all sorts of people do that other people don't see in the same way, and so everyone is free to behave legally and express their view in a courteous manner,” said Riach. “Our guys are perfectly able to hunt in their own time and someone is perfectly able to express concern about that.”
Still, many people believe that the photos were distasteful, and now, the rugby players are at the center of a social media firestorm.