Crusaders snapped on a big game joyride
Pictures of Crusaders rugby players on a hunting trip in South Africa are being used by an environmental organisation in its fight against what it calls canned, or joyride, hunting.
The players shown in the four pictures posted by the Landmark Foundation on its Facebook page were Tom Taylor, George and Sam Whitelock, Ben Funnell and Tyler Bleyendaal. In each picture, one or more of the players was posing beside a dead animal. The animals were a zebra, a blesbok, a gemsbok and an eland.
Foundation director Dr Bool Smuts said none of the animals involved were endangered and he expected the hunting was legal.
But his foundation was "against the whole concept of trophy hunting".
"If it was a biological intervention on a professional basis ... for management of species and biodiversity we can understand that," Smuts said.
"When these people (hunters) come out they want to hunt the thing with the biggest horns, the most dominant males usually because they are the good trophies, so the natural selection is not natural at all."
The foundation had also posted pictures of South African rugby players as part of its campaign against the trophy hunting industry, which the foundation considered to be a mechanism for stripping biological assets, Smuts said.
Crusaders chief executive Hamish Riach said some players had gone on a hunting trip in April when the team was in South Africa, playing in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein.
The players had been "performing a perfectly legal activity in their own time".
"I guess the point is that there are things that all sorts of people do that other people don't see in the same way, and so everyone is free to behave legally and express their view in a courteous manner," Riach said.
"Our guys are perfectly able to hunt in their own time and some one is perfectly able to express concern about that."
Just as some people might have a different view of hunting "vegetarians might be concerned they had bacon and eggs for breakfast, or a teetotaler might be concerned they have a drink from time to time".
It was accepted that sometimes people with any sort of profile attracted attention. It was understandable and part of life.
Riach was unaware of the details of the hunting trip, and could not recall whether any of the players had shot an animal, or what happened to the animals shot on the trip.
Smuts said it was particularly distasteful when people with celebrity status were used to promote an industry which the foundation felt was doing considerable damage across Africa.
Celebrities had to take the bad along with the good that came with being well-known. If they behaved in an "unethical" way, even if it was legal, they must take what came to them, Smuts said.
The pictures with the Crusaders players had first appeared on a general interest hunting Facebook page.
The foundation posted the pictures on its Facebook page two days ago. Since then the page had been visited 25,000 times.
"It seems like it's going viral," Smuts said.
"It's serving its purpose. It's asking the question: Is it appropriate that rugby teams scrum down over a dead zebra. Is that respectful of that animal. Did you hunt to eat that animal?"
He was confident the zebra would not have been eaten, because apparently zebra meat tasted terrible.
*Comments have now been closed on this story.