All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock has defended his actions after pictures emerged of him and several Crusaders team-mates on a hunting trip in South Africa.
The pictures, which were first published yesterday, caused a public outcry. They show Whitelock and the team-mates posing with a dead zebra, blesbok, gemsbok and eland during their trip to Africa in April.
Whitelock told 3News the dead animals were used as meat.
"[We] made sure we didn't shoot something for fun because that's not what we are about - it's something I feel very strongly about," he said.
Whitelock said he grew up hunting with his brothers on a family farm.
"It's something that I've been brought up with my whole life, my mum and dad are farmers," he said.
"When we were little fellas, [we were] shooting ducks and things like that."
Asked if the South African photos were a bad look, he said it was best to "be careful what you do in your private time".
The Crusader said he didn't eat the zebra meat, but others on the trip had.
The photos were originally posted on the Facebook page of environmental organisation the Landmark Foundation, which described the shots as "disgraceful".
Other players pictured were Tom Taylor, George Whitelock, Ben Funnell and Tyler Bleyendaal. In each picture, one or more of the players was posing beside a dead animal.
Foundation director Dr Bool Smuts said none of the animals involved was 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 someone is perfectly able to express concern about that."
Just as some people might have a different view of hunting "vegetarians might be concerned [other people] had bacon and eggs for breakfast, or a teetotaler might be concerned [others] 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.
Since posting the pictures on its own Facebook page, the Landmark Foundation had been "going viral", Smuts said.
"It's serving its purpose," he said.
"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.
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