In photos, 12-year-old Aryanna Gourdin is pictured posing with dead wild animals — an impala, a giraffe, a zebra — ones she hunted and killed on a recent trip to South Africa.
The huntress has been pulled into the center of a social media firestorm with critics calling her an “animal hater” and others calling her a child who doesn’t deserve the flak.
“It’s something that I cherish and I enjoy and I want other people to see what I’ve been able to experience,” she recently told ABC News’ “Good Morning America.”
Earlier this month, Aryanna and her father, Eli Gourdin, traveled from their northern Utah home to the African savanna, where Aryanna was pictured with a bow and pink arrows that she used to hunt and kill.
It appears she documented the trip on a Facebook page called Braids and Bows, where commenters called her a “killer,” a “murderer” and a “sickening little witch.”
“Despicable. Absolutely disgusting,” one of them wrote. “You don’t deserve any respect. Taking for granted the greatest gift of mother nature and the universe.”
One even suggested that young girl deserved to die.
“A normal dad would take his daughter to africa for a safari and not for hunting animal, for fun!!!!!!” the commenter wrote. “Thats so poor. i hope that one day while she is hunting animals, just for fun, she will be killed by one of them!!!!”
Her father could not immediately be reached for comment.
The practice of hunting and killing large animals has drawn criticism from time to time. Perhaps the most controversial kill came last year when American dentist Walter Palmer took Africa’s beloved black-maned beauty, Cecil the lion — renewing an intense debate over the sport.
But in recent years, female hunters have been the targets of widespread rebuke.
Female participation in hunting increased by 10 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. During that same period, online hatred of female hunters, it seems, has increased significantly more.
So why is it that so many people bristle at the sight of a pony-tailed blonde gleefully killing for sport?
After Aryanna was recently swept up in the tide of social media criticism, she told “Good Morning America” that she hopes more women learn to love the sport.
“I want other women and youth to get into the hunting experiences,” she said, adding: “It’s just awesome.”
A 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.”
A commenter responded: “When you get a THRILL and say killing an animal was you ‘DREAMS’ I think you need to re-examine what you are learning and being taught and maybe go find yourself. Killing something should NEVER feel that good little girl.”
Another said: “Animals are living breathing things. How could ending a helpless life bring you pride and joy? If anything, you should be ashamed. I’m not bringing you hatred, I’m just telling you.”
“They love animals,” Aryanna told “Good Morning America” about her critics. “But we love animals too. It’s just, we also love hunting.”
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.”
Another added: “You are an amazing young lady that is doing a great job at such a young age of representing the hunting community. To bad the haters don’t get the facts before they post hateful things. Keep doing what you love sweetie!”
Aryanna said her family members have been hunting for generations and her father introduced her to it when she was a small child.
“We’re proud to be hunters and we’ll never apologize for being hunters,” her father, Eli Gourdin, told “Good Morning America.”
In regard to the giraffe, Gourdin said people at the hunting farm in South Africa allowed them to hunt the animal because it was causing problems for the other giraffes.
“They actually had an older giraffe that was eating up valuable resources other giraffes need to survive,” he said in the interview.
Gourdin added that the meat from the animals he and his daughter killed during the hunting trip was donated to a local village.
Amid the controversy over the weekend, it seems Aryanna posted a long rant, outlining the arguments for trophy hunting.
“Although there are flaws in the current system, (poachers posing as ethical hunters for example), trophy hunting remains the only effective way to obtain money for conservation efforts,” the post read.
In the post’s comment section, Aryanna appeared to defend herself from people who had been scolding her not only for hunting but also for posting photos of her kills.
“Hunting is hunting period,” she seemingly wrote. “Just because someone chooses to display their ‘Trophies’ doesn’t make then a bad person. It represents memories.”
But earlier this week, 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 knelt down, solemn and still next to one of her kills.
“Here is a picture of Aryanna paying her respects to the giraffe she was able to harvest in South Africa,” he wrote in the caption.
Aryanna said despite the outrage, she’s going to keep hunting.
“I would never back down from hunting,” Aryanna told “Good Morning America,” because I’m a hunter and no matter the people say to me I’m never going to stop.”