WASHINGTON • In her photos, 12-year-old Aryanna Gourdin is pictured posing with dead wild animals - an impala, a giraffe, a zebra - that she hunted and killed on a recent trip to South Africa.
Earlier this month, Aryanna and her father, Mr Eli Gourdin, travelled from their northern Utah home to the African savannah, where Aryanna was pictured with a bow and pink arrows that she used to hunt. It appears she documented the trip on a Facebook page called Braids and Bows.
The young hunter has now found herself at the centre of a social media firestorm with critics calling her an "animal hater" and others calling her a child who does not deserve the flak.
"They love animals," Aryanna said about her critics on Good Morning America last Wednesday. "But we love animals too. It's just, we also love hunting."
She said her family members have been hunting for generations. She hopes more women will learn to love the sport. "I want other women and youth to get into the hunting experiences," she said, adding: "It's just awesome."
The practice of hunting and killing large animals has drawn criticism. Perhaps the most controversial kill came last year when American dentist Walter Palmer shot Africa's beloved "Cecil the lion", renewing an intense debate over the sport. In recent years, female hunters have also been the targets of rebuke.
One photo that received a huge amount of attention was one of a smiling Aryanna posing with a dead zebra. The caption read: "One of my dream hunts for sure."
"Despicable. Absolutely disgusting," wrote one of the comments on her Facebook page, adding: "Taking for granted the greatest gift of mother nature and the universe."
Another commenter even suggested that young girl deserved to die: "I hope that one day while she is hunting animals, just for fun, she will be killed by one of them!"
Still, others have spoken in support of the girl hunter."Let the haters hate!" one wrote. "Hunt away Aryanna, let them think what they want to."
While her father could not immediately be reached for comment, he told Good Morning America that the hunting farm in South Africa allowed them to hunt the giraffe because it had been causing problems for the other giraffes. The meat from the animals killed during the trip was donated to a local village, he added. "We're proud to be hunters and we'll never apologise for being hunters," Mr Gourdin said.
ANIMAL LOVERS TOO
They love animals. But we love animals too. It's just, we also love hunting.
ARYANNA GOURDIN, on the angry comments from netizens reacting to the photos of her posing with hunted animals.
I would never back down from hunting because I'm a hunter and no matter (what) the people say to me I'm never going to stop.
ARYANNA, on how the online flak won't stop her hunting.
A day before her appearance on the show, Aryanna posted an apology, saying, "My last profile picture was very offensive to others and I have learned my lesson." It's unclear, however, which photo she had used as her profile image.
The next day, her father posted a photo on his Facebook page, showing Aryanna kneeling down, solemn and still next to one of her kills.
Aryanna told the show that despite the outrage, she's going to keep hunting. "I would never back down from hunting because I'm a hunter and no matter (what) the people say to me I'm never going to stop." THE WASHINGTON POST