Texas Tech cheerleader Kendall Jones, 19, has been shooting endangered wildlife on safari trips to Zimbabwe and South Africa since age 13. She proudly displayed her trophy kills—namely the “Big Five”: the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and White/Black rhinoceros—on her Facebook page, until the social media site took down her photos on grounds that they violate the network's animal abuse policies. It took Facebook a couple days longer to pull the "Kill Kendall Jones" page—that thanks to her dad Cody Jones demanding it be removed. And signatures are increasing daily on a number of online petitions to stop Jones' trophy hunts.
The online backlash against "huntress" Kendall Jones is only snowballing, despite her attempts to play damage control by showcasing her softer side on social media—posting photos of herself cuddling live animals.
Critics contend Jones has glamorized poaching, beaming a toothy smile while hugging her dead prey. Some media outlets have inaccurately reported that she even killed an at-risk white rhino, of which only 20,000 remain, but in actuality, she helped veterinarians by tranquilizing the rhino that had likely been injured by a lion, so the rhino could receive medical attention, among other tests.
"The rhino was a green hunt, meaning it was darted and immobilized in order to draw blood for testing, DNA profiling, microchip ping the horn and treating a massive leg injury most likely caused by lions. […]" Jones has said.
Kendall Jones with a tranquilized rhino.
Jones also argues that she's killing animals in the name of conservation.
"Controlling the male lion population is important within large fenced areas like these in order to make sure the cubs have a high survival rate. Funds from a hunt like this goes partially to the government for permits but also to the farm owner as an incentive to keep and raise lions on their property. [...] Now to the leopard, this was a free ranging leopard in Zimbabwe on communal land. The money for the permit goes to the communal council and to their village people. […]"
She calls her other hunts "mercy kills"—taking out older lions who would have surely been maimed by a younger one.
Furthermore, Jones says organized hunting of African game costs thousands of dollars, which goes to wildlife and habitat conservation and veterinary bills. Tourists with cameras are not benefitting these causes.
In addition, hunting reserves keep poaching for meat, ivory, rhino horn and other animal products at bay, while pumping money into the rural economy, research and conservation.
But PETA isn't buying Jones' defense. "Her only interest is slaughtering wildlife for a cheap thrill," the organization stated. Her efforts are "in a desperate quest to secure a macabre reality show."
Jones is in fact an aspiring TV star, and recent fame has likely garnered her the opportunity to host her own television show on the Sportsman channel in 2015.
Jones says organized hunting of African game reduces poaching for animal parts like ivory.
Meanwhile, well-known figures are sounding support for Jones, such as pro-golfer John Peterson, who has raised the question: Are Jones' haters just being sexist?
“What if it was a sixty year old overweight dude posting the hunting pics?” Peterson said on Twitter with the hashtag #ISupportKendallJones.
Jones is one of thousands of trophy hunters, who are typically male Americans. But is she being villainized for normalizing the sport, or to be more straightforward, because she is young, pretty and female?
“Conventional ideals of women dictate that ‘unlike men, women should love animals and be caring and nurturing, not ruthless hunters of endangered species,’” CBC News writer Matt Kwong wrote this week, quoting a women’s studies professor. “Jones’s case has apparently tapped into another level of anger because of who is wielding the weapon.”
Indian Country Today Media Network readers, we want you to weigh in. What do you think: Is Jones actually helping to preserve rare African wildlife, or is she just killing endangered animals for sport?