A Kentucky trophy hunter who sparked global outrage after posing gleefully with a slain giraffe in 2017 spoke out for the first time in her own defense Friday, but she appeared to shoot herself in the foot by raising new questions about what she called a beneficial “harvest.”
In an interview on “CBS This Morning,” 38-year-old Tess Talley described the 2017 South Africa hunt as an environmental effort, but a photo that went viral in 2018 that showed her holding a firearm and grinning in front of the carcass prompted a backlash.
Talley used the skin of the giraffe to cover a gun case and throw pillows, which she said “everybody loves.”
“He was delicious,” she said. “He really was. Not only was he beautiful and majestic, he was good. And we all take pictures with our harvest. That’s what we do. That’s what they’ve always done. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
The picture caught fire on social media after it was resurfaced and shared on Twitter by digital news outlet Africlandpost. It was then retweeted more than 48,000 times with a caption berating Talley as a “white American savage” and a “neanderthal.”
Undeterred by widespread scrutiny and the condemnation of celebrities including comedian Ricky Gervais and actress Debra Messing, who labeled her a “selfish murderer,” Talley described it as a preservation effort.
“We are managing herds,” she said. “We’re managing numbers of wildlife.”
Still, CBS anchors pushed back on Talley’s argument, wondering why she doesn’t simply donate to nonlethal conservation initiatives rather than take matters into her own hands.
“I would rather do what I love to do, rather than just give a lump sum of cash somewhere and not know particularly where that is going,” she replied.
Talley called the hunts “a hobby” and asserted that she remains “proud of that giraffe.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, which tracks the status of wildlife populations, categorizes giraffes as vulnerable. Major threats to the species include habitat loss, civil unrest, ecological changes and illegal hunting. But in South Africa, hunting remains legal, even though it has been met with shock and anger online.
In a statement released in April, Kitty Block, head of the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, sounded the alarm on threats to giraffes, warning that the U.S. has “played a significant role” by allowing trophy hunters to enter the U.S. with wild animal parts.
“Over the past decade, nearly 40,000 giraffe parts and products were imported into the United States, including giraffe bone knife handles, giraffe skin pillows and more,” Block said. “There are no strong international regulations on the trade in giraffe parts, and giraffe bone has now taken on the status of a ‘new ivory.’”
Despite Block’s concerns, in 2018, zoologist John Hanks, a former Africa program director at the World Wildlife Fund, backed hunting as an important conservation tool.
“There are hunters who hunt ethically, and it’s always the bad side that gets blown up out of all proportion,” he told The New York Times. “Unfortunately, the critics climb on the people who make the mistakes, and vilify everyone for being in the same boat.”