The real story behind the viral hunting photo

Gentle giant: Tess Thompson Talley claims she gave the meat from her kill to local villagers.

Does trophy hunting do more good than harm? When an American woman posed with a giraffe she had just killed, the internet exploded in fury. She says that her actions aided conservation.

Tess Thompson Talley, a 37-year-old factory worker from Kentucky, clutches her rifle and grins at the camera. Her figure is dwarfed by the body of the 18-stone giraffe she has just shot dead in South Africa.

“Idiot woman”, “American savage” and “vile, selfish murderer” were among the insults levelled at Talley when the picture went viral. She, like Walter Palmer before her, was submerged in a global storm of fury from animal rights’ groups, the public and celebrities alike.

But she stood firm. By killing the animal, Talley argued, she had helped to protect the local giraffe population as her target had been too old to breed and had killed three younger bulls. The thousands of dollars she paid for the hunt, meanwhile, would go towards conservation and the local community. However, recent studies suggest only 3 to 5% of hunting revenues help local people.

Populations of the southern giraffe have declined by almost 40% over the last three generations, mainly due to habitat loss and poaching. But they have recently started to recover in South Africa, where cattle farming is slowly being replaced with wildlife farming driven by the hunting industry.

“Legal hunting of giraffes is not a reason for their decline,” acknowledges Julian Fennessy, co-founder of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

Hunters often cite the example of Kenya in their favour, where wildlife populations have fallen by 70% since hunting was banned in 1977, partly due to a rise in poaching. Their opponents, however, say the decrease is down to a human population boom and corrupt land management.

Botswana has had a very different experience. Since its 2014 hunting ban, the country has focused on ecotourism to bring in money for conservation. Government incentives have got local farmers onside, which helps to prevent poaching, and the booming luxury tourism industry aims to show that big animals are worth more alive than dead.

Does big game hunting do more good than harm?

Killing with kindness

Of course not, say some. Killing animals, especially endangered ones, is morally repugnant and the benefits to communities are exaggerated. Conservation can be better funded through low-impact ecotourism, which supports local people and brings in luxury visitors without unnecessary slaughter, as Botswana has shown.

It has undeniable benefits, argue others. Hunters pay generous fees to shoot a carefully regulated number of animals, with that money then funding expensive conservation efforts and helping the local community. As a result, local farmers don’t need to poach to feed their families. In Zimbabwe, the government says 75% of trophy hunting fees go towards conservation and anti-poaching initiatives.

You Decide

  1. Is there a good side to trophy hunting?
  2. Why might trophy hunting bans not always work?


  1. Choose one of the five big game African animals. Look up how its population has changed over the last 50 years and draw a line graph of your findings.
  2. Research the trophy hunting bans in Kenya and Botswana. Write one page on the differences in the countries’ approaches and how effective the bans have been.

Some People Say...

“In a civilized… country, wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen.”

Theodore Roosevelt

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
While the bulk of foreign trophy hunters travelling to Africa are American, recent studies show 78% of Americans believe hunters should not be able to import their trophies into the US. An average of 126,000 animal trophies were imported each year from 2005 to 2014.
What do we not know?
Whether other countries will follow the example of Kenya and Botswana in banning trophy hunting. Zambia imposed a ban on hunting lions and leopards in 2013, but lifted it after two years, claiming communities were struggling without the money from foreign tourism. It is also unclear whether trophy hunting prevents poaching, as poachers have been known to use legal hunting as a cover for their activities.

Word Watch

Walter Palmer
An American dentist who paid $50,000 to kill Cecil the lion in 2015. He became a figure of hate among animal activists.
Too old to breed
Multiple reports claimed the animal Talley killed was a “rare” species of black giraffe. It was actually a more common southern giraffe whose spots had darkened with age.
The name for male giraffes.
Wildlife farming
Populations of the severely endangered white rhino began to recover in South Africa when the animals were included in trophy hunting.
Fallen by 70%
According to a 2016 study by the University of Nairobi.
A form of tourism that encourages visitors to a country to leave a small carbon footprint and to benefit local communities and environments. Ecotourists pay large sums to observe naturally beautiful environments and wildlife without negatively impacting then.

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