Who takes to social media and calls a 12-year-old girl a "stupid bitch?"
There has been a firestorm of activity about a young lady from Utah named Aryanna who has been posting pictures on social media of her recent kills in Africa: zebras, giraffes, and many other animals shot with a gun or the pink arrows she pulled from her quiver. Aryanna refers to these hunts as a dream come true and something she will forever cherish.
Interestingly, she has also issued a lengthy formulaic defense of her barbarism, working through the checklist of pro-hunting claims to justify her young bloodlust: money from hunts goes back into conservation; these animals are not endangered; meat from the kills feeds poor African families; hunters are precise killers who only take the shot when they feel guaranteed in their ability to kill swiftly.
Time after time, Born Free has debunked these hunting myths in numerous fora. We have revealed the paltry sum from hunts that is actually returned to conservation efforts and the comparatively small amount of tourism revenue generated by thrill kills as opposed to non-lethal tourism activities; that hunting disrupts family systems and ecosystems, regardless of whether the species is predator or prey, endangered or plentiful; that there is much more community value from having wildlife alive to benefit local communities in perpetuity rather than a one-off slaughter; and that individual animals suffer from being shot (think Cecil), whether with bullet or arrow.
But, here's what really engaged my interest about this specific girl and this specific explosion of vitriol on both sides of the wildlife slaughter industry: I'm the father of a 12-year-old girl. I am looking at pictures of Aryanna, posing with her kills, poised to shoot an arrow. Here's what I see, aside from the horror of the kill: a little girl with her hair up, a backwards baseball cap, a t-shirt, jean shorts, and sneakers. My 12-year-old daughter, Mia, works hard to get her hair up just right, wears a baseball cap backwards, and wears t-shirts, jean shorts, and sneakers.
They are just little girls. Little girls who are influenced by their parents, by their fathers, and who view wildlife as amazing... just in very different ways.
Mia and I just returned from a week-long father/daughter summer trip to Yellowstone. Mia wanted to go to Wyoming. Mia wanted to see wildlife. And, there we were, hiking the Grand Tetons, looking up at bird nests, and driving through Yellowstone searching for wildlife: a herd of elk; a male with antlers taller than Mia; a lone coyote searching for food in the tall grass; chipmunks scurrying to and fro; and buffalo... so many buffalo!
For more than an hour, we sat watching hundreds of buffalo in the valley below grazing, dust-bathing--just really existing in peace. I glanced over at Mia, all of 12, and noticed the tears. My little 12-year-old was crying, so deeply and personally moved at the experience of seeing these animals--just living naturally and being there, in front of us.
As I read the Facebook posts and online commentary about Aryanna, I was truly astounded by the level of anger and viciousness. The incendiary language. The hate. Make no mistake; we who object to animal slaughter for sport, or fun, or commerce receive the hatred back ten-fold.
At the end of the day, they are, genuinely, just little girls. So, I teach Mia compassion, care, and concern for all living things. Aryanna's dad teaches her to kill animals for sport and to justify it with a litany of defenses.
I believe to my core that we should raise our children to respect other living beings: to protect them and, at the very least, to leave them alone to behave and live naturally in the wild. Mia believes this, too, and is literally moved to tears at the mere sight of thriving, heaving herds of buffalo.
Step one, I think, is to dial down the rhetoric in a significant way. We can believe different things but behave respectfully toward one another; it's what compassion is all about. Step two is a bit more challenging, though, isn't it? There is not a simple or straightforward strategy for changing minds. I doubt I will sway Aryanna's father and I know he will not sway me.
I wonder what might happen, however, if two 12-year-old girls, backwards baseball caps and all, could just talk to each other without external influence... or maybe build a friendship around humane activities. Perhaps fewer animals would suffer and their happiness in life would be equally strong.
Perhaps Aryanna would no longer see a giraffe or zebra as something to selfishly covet, dead, on display in her home. Perhaps she would desire a world with wild animals safe and free. Perhaps she would realize that she could enjoy nature while still shooting bullets and arrows at inanimate targets, just as the archers and shooters do in the Olympics. Perhaps there would be more common ground there than anyone might expect.
Maybe while Aryanna and Mia are exploring compassionate friendship, I'll buy her dad a beer.
Keep Wildlife in the Wild,