Comedian Ricky Gervais has a reputation for not pulling punches when it comes to his act, and it seems that that fearlessness extends to his social media career. Gervais isn’t backing down after a series of controversial tweets condemning trophy hunters went viral on Wednesday evening. Those tweets have triggered both an upswell of support from animal rights activists and a storm of internet backlash from hunting enthusiasts, but Gervais is standing his ground and calling out hunters who choose to kill defenseless animals and then revel in their kills on social media.
What must’ve happened to you in your life to make you want to kill a beautiful animal & then lie next to it smiling? pic.twitter.com/DyYw1T5ck2
— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) April 13, 2015
It all started when Gervais responded to a viral post by trophy hunter Rebecca Francis. Francis had shared a picture of herself lying on the ground next to the bloodied corpse of her most recent kill, an African giraffe. Gervais tweeted the image adding his own commentary. “What must’ve happened to you in your life to make you want to kill a beautiful animal & then lie next to it smiling?”
The ugly incident prompted a series of equally ugly tweets and threats directed at Francis, who has made a habit of sharing her latest kills via social media. Activists and hunting opponents shared their disgust over the image and the woman herself, with many suggesting that Francis deserved the same sort of death she doled out to her animal prey. The vitriolic response prompted a reply from Rebecca Francis. In a Facebook post, she claimed that she would “Never apologize” for being a woman in the hunting industry. Francis linked Gervais’ attacks on her character to sexism. She then went on to link her work as a hunter to conservation efforts.
Gervais hasn’t backed down. Laughing off the claims of sexism and Francis’ conservationist claims, the comic has continued to blast poachers and trophy hunters who “cause extinction” and “hunt for fun and money” rather than for population maintenance. In a Facebook post of his own, Gervais also took umbrage with Francis’ earlier claim that her killing of a giraffe was an “act of mercy” and allowed her to help feed hungry locals. The comic reminded readers that trophy hunters often “exploit poor local populations” who sell hunting rights and support in order to make ends meet.
The uproar over Rebecca Francis hunting candids and Ricky Gervais’ tweets is eerily similar to the dust-up surrounding Kendall Jones. A Texas cheerleader, Jones came under fire after posting pictures of her bloody African safari to social media. Jones took a similarly defiant tone, though admittedly without the conservationist window dressing, and briefly became the internet’s public enemy number one. (Jones would later go on to launch a YouTube channel proving that there really is no such thing as bad publicity.) Interest in her hobbies has since declined as the internet moved on to its latest target.
Even hunters who shoot what they eat agree that TROPHY Hunting and killing for sick thrills is wrong. How can anyone disagree with this?
— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) April 22, 2015
For many, the lesson learned for all this is likely to have less to do with conservation and more to do with social media etiquette. The shaming of hunters on social media has been trending upward for the last several years, likely prompted by the graphic and unsettling nature of kill photos posted by trophy hunters. However, despite the drum beat of public condemnation, sport hunting continues to be a significant and growing problem for endangered and threatened animal species. Perhaps all we’re really doing is teaching hunting enthusiasts not to post their latest kills.