On Monday, comedian Ricky Gervais tweeted a photo of a hunter posing with a giraffe she had killed, with the caption: “What must’ve happened to you in your life to make you want to kill a beautiful animal & then lie next to it smiling?”
What must’ve happened to you in your life to make you want to kill a beautiful animal & then lie next to it smiling? pic.twitter.com/DyYw1T5ck2
— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) April 13, 2015
As of this writing, Gervais has 7.57 million followers on Twitter. Understandably, his comment set off quite a commotion.
The internet exploded on both sides of the issue, with many of Gervais’ followers scolding the hunter, Rebecca Francis, and some even making death threats. One commenter wrote, “I would love to permanently erase that smile. May she get all the cancers and diseases that she deserves.” Another asked, “seriously when can start [sic] hunting morons like this bitch? #Animalsarebetterthanhumans”
Hunters, meanwhile, rallied in Francis’ defense. On HuntingLife.com’s Facebook page, Ron McKnight wrote, “Hunting is legal, and without the money spent on licenses to pay for wetlands, etc, animals would overpopulated etc! So all you veggies, and pita people, get over it and leave her alone! Geez worry about yourself! If you paid thousands to hunt, you would take pictures too! Again leave her alone and get a life.”
Who Is Rebecca Francis?
Francis is an avid outdoorswoman, Alaskan guide and most famous for winning the 2010 Extreme Huntress competition. On her website, the mother of eight and grandmother of nine states that she and her husband “love the outdoors and any kind of adventure.” Indeed, her wilderness bonafides are beyond dispute: camping, fishing, mountaineering, boating, hiking and of course hunting. Born and raised in Utah and having traveled throughout the world, Francis has hunted elk, deer, brown bear, black bear, moose, ram, antelope, zebra, wildebeest, lynx, squirrel and now giraffe. Her preferred weapon is the bow, her preferred rifle is the .338 RCM.
After Gervais’ tweet featuring Francis with the giraffe was retweeted tens of thousands of times, HuntingLife.com contacted Francis for a statement. According to Francis, she was asked to kill the giraffe by the local people. “He had been kicked out of the herd by a younger and stronger bull,” she said, and “was past his breeding years and very close to death.”
Francis also claims that the giraffe’s carcass later fed the locals. “I chose to honor his life by providing others with his uses,” she said, “and I do not regret it for one second. (The locals) did not waste a single part of him. I am grateful to be a part of something so good.”
HuntingLife.com has also defended Francis from critics on their Facebook page. To one commenter that pointed out her smiling and posing with an animal that was allegedly being used as food, the site responded: “To a hunter every animal they take cleanly and ethically is a trophy and a memory that will last forever. We are prideful the human species [sic] and we have been documenting our hunts for the last 75000 year [sic] in petroglyphs and now in photographs. Nothing has changed.”
But the debate did not end there. The animosity directed at Francis reached such a pitch that the hunter was compelled to issue a second statement on Thursday, April 16:
“I feel it is my obligation on behalf of myself as well as my fellow hunters to respond to the mass criticism I have received over this issue,” she wrote. Francis stood by her right to hunt and that “[t]here is no question that hunters contribute the most to the welfare of wildlife.”
From that point, however, Francis argues that hunting has ceased to be the real issue and that Gervais is targeting female hunters. “Ricky Gervais has used his power and influence to specifically target women in the hunting industry,” she wrote, “and has sparked thousands of people to call for my death, the death of my family and many other women who hunt.”
Francis then goes on to make very valid points about the indecency of threatening her and her family, writing, “In a country that was created on freedom of beliefs, it is hard to comprehend that people are so intolerant of each other that they promote vile, disgusting, and explicit ways to invoke death upon others.”
Yet she concludes that she “will never apologize for being a woman who hunts.”
Unfortunately, by conflating the vitriol directed at her with Gervais’ intent, Francis has only added fuel to the raging flame war between hunters and their detractors. While the same cannot be said for Gervais’ followers or Francis’ critics, Gervais has made it very clear that his disdain for Francis is based on her actions, not her gender.
This Tofu & Rice was old and sad and wanted me to kill it. Now I will eat it. pic.twitter.com/5vsstpUZaL
— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) April 16, 2015
Thus the debate over the right to hunt has devolved from one of necessity vs. conservation to blanket gender-baiting, which will serve only to involve a wider circle of angry people.
This Is Not the Right Way to Have a Conversation
I could have written this piece very differently. Planet Experts, of course, is partnered with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation and I, myself, am quite fond of the animal.
But, despite the raw emotions seeing Francis smiling with a dying giraffe induces, neither I nor Planet Experts can do anyone much good if we can’t keep this channel open for a civil debate.
In my interviews with two of our Planet Experts, Greg Wendt of Green Economy ThinkTank and Mark Tercek of The Nature Conservancy, both spoke about the damage well-meaning people have done to the environment. Because the need for conservation has been framed as “Us vs. Them” for so long, many industrialists simply tune out the warnings of climate change, global warming and deforestation.
We cannot threaten or demean the people we disagree with just because we disagree with them. That leads to conflict without end, and on the internet that can manifest in infinite and infinitely uglier ways. At the very least, we should owe each other a modicum of decency that includes keeping the family and associates of our perceived enemies out of that debate.
Am I pleased that Rebecca Francis shot a giraffe and posed with it? No. Neither was Ricky Gervais when he tweeted as much. But my opinion does not negate what Francis believes, that she was genuinely helping an African village.
Francis actually put it best: “This has evolved into an issue about the morality of threatening human lives over disagreeing with someone else’s beliefs. It shocks me that people who claim to be so loving and caring for animals can turn around and threaten to murder and rape my children.”
Conversely, should Francis accuse Gervais of misogyny as a means of deflection? No. Gervais hates that Francis is a hunter, not that she’s a hunter of the female variety, and to argue otherwise takes us all down a darker and dirtier road than we should be traveling on. Since we are all traveling on it together, it behooves us to consider where we’re going.