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Kentucky woman who killed giraffe says she's gotten thousands of angry messages, threats

A picture of a female American hunter with the “rare” black giraffe she killed in South Africa last year sparked outrage online last year. The woman, Tess Thompson Talley of Kentucky, says the animal was too old for breeding.
A picture of a female American hunter with the “rare” black giraffe she killed in South Africa last year sparked outrage online last year. The woman, Tess Thompson Talley of Kentucky, says the animal was too old for breeding. Twitter

A Kentucky woman vilified on social media for killing a giraffe on a 2017 hunt in Africa said she has received thousands of angry messages and death threats.

A photo of Tess Talley posing with a large giraffe went viral this week after the Twitter account of a site called Africa Digest posted two photos and called her a “white American savage.”

Media report that Talley is from Johnson County in Eastern Kentucky. She issued a statement this week saying the giraffe was not rare and she was participating in what she called “conservation through game management.”

She says in the statement “some of the most vile things have been directed at me and many other women hunters.”

Talley has been criticized on social media by celebrities such as Ricky Gervais and “Will and Grace” actress Debra Messing, who called her a “disgusting, vile, amoral, heartless, selfish murderer.”

The photos posted by Talley last year show her standing and smiling beside a dead giraffe along with the caption: “Prayers for my once in a lifetime dream hunt came true today!”

Trophy hunting is a legal practice in many African countries.

She claims in her statement that the giraffe was over 18 years old and had killed three other younger giraffes that were of breeding age.

“I get that hunting is not for everyone,” she said in the statement, but “if it was any other belief that was different, threats and insults would be deemed hideous, however for some reason it is ok to act this way because it’s hunting."

The giraffe is listed as vulnerable on the international Red List of Threatened Species because of a population decline of 36 percent to 40 percent over three generations, or from between 150,000 and 164,000 giraffes in 1985 to fewer than 98,000 in 2015. The main reasons include habitat loss, civil unrest and illegal hunting.

Advocates say that if hunting is regulated by governments, it can be beneficial to the local population and an efficient conservation effort.

“Hunters hunt them because hunters like to hunt,” said Rick Parsons, the chief executive of Safari Club International, who said people in his organization had spoken with Talley. “The conservation is a result of taking this desire to hunt and managing it. That’s the key concept in wildlife conservation today.”

John Hanks, a zoologist and the former director of the Africa program for the World Wildlife Fund, a leading conservation organization, said that hunting could be a powerful tool to generate funds for conservation. But he said that photographs of hunters with the animals they have killed could be “unfortunate.”

“There are hunters who hunt ethically, and it’s always the bad side that gets blown up out of all proportion,” he said. “Unfortunately, the critics climb on the people who make the mistakes, and vilify everyone for being in the same boat.”

The New York Times contributed to this report.
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