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?”

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.”

Rebecca Francis poses with the dead giraffe. (Image via HuntingLife.com)

Rebecca Francis poses with the dead giraffe. (Image via HuntingLife.com)

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.

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.

Pierce Nahigyan at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, 2014. (Author's Collection)

Pierce Nahigyan at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, 2014. 

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.

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8 Responses

  1. Steve Bloom says:

    “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.”

    Hmm, that’s careless, and I don’t mean just the global/warming/climate change redundancy. If you’re going to claim expertise, maybe check the relevant social science research results.

    Also, you seem to have taken a bunch of alleged facts from Francis without checking their veracity.

    I could say a lot more, but I’ll stop there.

    • First of all, Steve, thanks for reading! Secondly, it’s important to make the distinction between climate change and global warming, as they are often used interchangeably. Global warming is caused by greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere, whereas climate change refers to the variations and extremes in climate that this can cause. For instance, in some areas higher global temperatures will indirectly cause other areas to be colder or experience higher precipitation. I go into this in further detail in my piece on this year’s “snowmageddon” (http://www.planetexperts.com/snowmageddon-2015-global-warming-causes-blizzards/). I understand why you’d call global warming and climate change redundant, but hopefully this will explain it to you. And third, yes, I have quoted Francis on what her reasons for shooting the giraffe were, but I do not believe I ever made the assertion that these reasons have been verified.

  2. TJ says:

    I’m on board…to a point.

    In the case of this woman killing the giraffe, it had nothing to do with conservation which is what she is claiming. She also said something along the lines that she was honoring the animal by killing it. Not quite sure “honoring” is best represented by big smiles and cute, posed photos.

    My understanding is that she was part of a hunt in which the animals are ‘grown’ in areas with boundaries. People pay big money to take parts in hunts like these for the sole reason of attaining a trophy. This was not about feeding locals. This was about her ticking the “Kill Giraffe” box on her list.

    Sorry but that does make it “Us vs Them” in my world.

    But it’s the “conservation” argument that really get me because it is so rarely applicable. If there weren’t hunters might some animals die of starvation? Yes Is that cruel? No. Because nature isn’t cruel. Nature just is. We can’t apply our “feelings” to the situation. Eventually, animals would begin having less offspring and everything would again come in to balance.

    And just to go off a little more about “conservation,” in the mountains outside of Los Angeles the deer population is supposed to be down roughly 75%. Yet that has no impact on the number of hunting permits that are given each year. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that if conservation was the goal that the permits would reflect the smaller population?

    The bear population has also been decimated but because quotas are set on a State level and not a local level, it is conceivable that every bear could be legally killed throughout the entire forest, never to return again.

    The California Dept. of Fish and Game sees roughly $72M a year in revenue strictly from hunting/fishing licenses and tags. The entire budget is over $300M. They need that money. And when they take about their ‘biodiversity conservation” efforts, which takes the lion’s share of their expenditures, it’s about protecting land that can be hunted or fished.

    In her statement the hunter said,”I believe in the right to hunt. I believe that hunters promote wildlife more than any other source.”

    The second I hear “rights” coming from someone with a gun I can make an educated guess about where they’re coming from. And if she truly believes that hunters promote wildlife more than anyone else then she’s clearly swimming in a deep pool of justification because that’s bullshit.

    I get your point with this excellent article. Threats aren’t the way to go and mutual respect is the way to come to solutions….in most cases. I just don’t think this is one of them.

    Killing an animal that has a dwindling population, in an enclosed area, while charging big money for that “right,” is the epitome of human arrogance. It’s not deserving of me trying to understand and respect the reasons behind it. So I won’t.

  3. nypinta says:

    There isn’t an up vote, like, or star button so I’m writing it here that’d I click any of those buttons for TJ’s above comment.

  4. RoyBatty says:

    Seeing that others have quickly demolished Ms. Francis’ arguments about conservation and that the naturally dying giraffe would have returned into the ecosystem (not to mention the locals wanted her to kill it because she GIVES THEM MONEY to do so), let me call her out for her weakass attempt to spin this into Ricky Gervais did it because he’s misogynistic.

    Beyond the on the face of it ridiculousness of accusing a giant progressive like Gervais of all people, I’d like to point out that nowhere does he even remotely refer to her gender. He only uses the pronoun “you” and “your” so I’m guessing accusing people she has no good counter-argument for with being chauvinists is her usual BS response.

  5. RoyBatty says:

    Also, bravo, TJ, bra-effing-o for that well reasoned response from a fellow Californian who pays into the CA Dept of Fish & Game’s budget (annual fishing licenses with SoCal ocean stamp, $50/yr).

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