This post contains graphic images.
Squatting amid loose red dirt and rocks, Blake Fischer posed for a picture, a triumphant grin stretching across his face. Arranged in front of him, resembling a macabre family picture, are the bodies of four baboons. The smallest one’s head is lolled back, its mouth slightly agape. Crimson blood stains its abdomen. A quiver of arrows is in the foreground.
The photo landed Fischer, one of Idaho’s Fish and Game commissioners, in the middle of a firestorm of backlash and resulted in Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter asking for his resignation Monday, according to a news release. Fish and Game commissioners are appointed by the governor to serve four-year terms and “are subject to removal by him.” Fischer was recently reappointed to serve until 2022, the Idaho Statesman reported.
“I have high expectations and standards for every appointee in state government,” Otter said in a statement. “Every member of my administration is expected to exercise good judgment. Commissioner Fischer did not.”
Late Monday afternoon, Otter accepted Fischer’s resignation, which was sent in an email to the governor’s office, the release said.
“I recently made some poor judgments that resulted in sharing photos of a hunt in which I did not display an appropriate level of sportsmanship and respect for the animals I harvested,” Fischer wrote. “While these actions were out of character for me, I fully accept responsibility and feel it is best for the citizens of Idaho and sportsmen and women that I resign my post.”
Fischer went on to apologize, adding that he hopes his actions “will not harm the integrity and ethic of the Idaho Fish & Game Department moving forward.”
It all began last month when Fischer and his wife returned from a hunting trip to Namibia. Fischer compiled photos of the animals the pair had hunted, which included a leopard, giraffe, impala and waterbuck, and sent the images along with descriptions of each kill to more than 100 people, KBOI reported.
At the very top of Fischer’s email was the picture of the baboons, according to the Idaho Statesman.
“Fellas,” Fischer wrote in the Sept. 17 email, according to the Idaho State Journal, “I have been back for a week, but have been hunting and trying to get caught up. Anyways, my wife and I went to Namibia for a week . . . first she wanted to watch me and ‘get a feel’ of Africa . . . so I shot a whole family of baboons. I think she got the idea quick.”
Fischer’s email did not sit well with a number of people who received it, some of whom are former Fish and Game commissioners. The email and responses to it were obtained by local media outlets through a records request to the Idaho governor’s office.
In the days since the photos became public, Fischer faced harsh criticism and an increasing number of calls for his resignation from a position he has held for four years, the Statesman reported.
“They killed a whole family, including small baboons, and I think that’s revolting,” former commissioner Keith Stonebraker told the Statesman. “… It just puts a bad light on us.”
At least three former commissioners have supported calls on Fischer to resign, the Statesman reported.
In a lengthy email, Fred Trevey, who served as a commissioner for eight years, advised Fischer to “take responsibility and resign, sooner rather than later,” the KBOI reported.
“My reaction to the photo and accompanying text of you smiling and holding a ‘family’ of primates you killed, dismays and disappoints me,” Trevey wrote. “I have a difficult time understanding how a person privileged to be an Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner can view such an action as sportsmanlike and an example to others.”
Though it is legal to hunt baboons in Africa, Trevey wrote “legal does not make it right.” According to the Idaho State Journal, Trevey’s email included a reference to a hunting manual endorsed by the state’s Department of Fish and Game, which states that hunters should “refrain from taking photographs of the kill and from vividly describing the kill within earshot of non-hunters.”
“Your poor judgement has unnecessarily put the institution’s credibility, and hunting in general, at risk in a blink of an eye,” he wrote.
Keith E. Carlson, another former commissioner who called for Fischer to resign, echoed a similar condemnation of the photo.
“I don’t know how you can say anything good about a photo of a guy smiling with a stack of dead baboons with a baby in front,” Carlson told the Statesman. “If you’re an anti-hunter, that’s raw meat. And I’m a hunter — I’ve been a hunter forever.”
Fischer’s email was forwarded to the governor’s office by Idaho Fish and Game Commission Chairman Derick Attebury, the Statesman reported.
Fischer, who told the Statesman he received a call from a fellow commissioner expressing concerns about the photo, said he apologized for sending the pictures but defended the hunt.
“I didn’t do anything illegal,” he said. “I didn’t do anything unethical. I didn’t do anything immoral. … I look at the way Idaho’s Fish and Game statute says we’re supposed to manage all animals for Idaho, and any surplus of animals we have we manage through hunting, fishing and trapping. Africa does the same thing.”
Fischer said he received a list of animals that could be hunted, some of which required a trophy fee, according to the Statesman. “Baboons are free,” Fischer said.
Roger Phillips, a Fish and Game spokesperson, declined to comment.
“Commissioner Fischer was appointed by the governor and is not an employee of Idaho Fish and Game,” Phillips wrote in an email to The Washington Post on Monday morning.
Hours before Fischer’s resignation was announced, Jon Hanian, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, told The Post in an email that Otter was “concerned.” Hanian added, “…our office is actively looking into the matter.”
Comedian Ricky Gervais, a longtime animal rights advocate, posted a scathing two-word tweet in which he called Fischer a “Pathetic [expletive],” using a vulgar word to describe female genitalia. “#BanTrophyHunting,” he added.
“Blake Fischer liked to kill lots of African wildlife,” biologist Daniel Schneider tweeted. “Some animals on the verge of being declared endangered (and he knows this). He shouldn’t be a US Game [Commissioner].”
Calls for Fischer to resign or be fired resounded.
“Please address the Blake Fischer issue immediately,” one person tweeted. “He needs to be removed from his post as he has proven that he is not a champion for wildlife.”
Fischer told the Statesman he was “raised in a very ethical hunting family.” In each photo, he said he tried to “pose the animals in a natural position,” adding that blood was wiped off their mouths and rifles or bows placed over bullet holes.
“These are normal hunting photos,” he said. “You shoot an animal, you take a picture of it.”
While the photos may have adhered to Fischer’s definition of “normal hunting photos,” other avid hunters, such as Steven Alder, were still troubled by what appeared to be the killing of an entire baboon family. Alder is the executive director of the pro-hunting group Idaho for Wildlife.
“He killed the whole baboon family and you’ve got little junior laying there in mom’s lap,” Alder told the Statesman. “You just don’t do that. I hate wolves as much as anyone, but I’m not going to take a wolf family and put it on display and show the baby wolf.”