This Texas Cheerleader Likes Killing Lions and Smiling in Photos With Their Carcasses [UPDATED]
School’s out for the summer, but 19-year-old Texas Tech cheerleader Kendall Jones isn’t your average college student hustling at a corporate internship or grinding through a part-time job at the mall. Instead, the avid hunter has hauled her pink bow and arrow across the Atlantic to shoot lions, leopards, and zebras in South Africa. Thanks to Jones’ gruesome Facebook photos documenting the bloody summer spree (which she is apparently filming for a television show), wildlife activists are working to get the teen’s page banned from the social media site and her access to the continent revoked.
Jones, who has a bright smile in every picture with a carcass, claims to be an animal advocate. “Hunters are the biggest conservationists there are,” she wrote on June 25 as a comment below the photo of her and a dead cheetah. “We want animal populations to grow and thrive!”
Never mind that fewer than 10,000 cheetahs are left in the wild and the animals have a notoriously difficult time reproducing in captivity.
The college sophomore grew up watching her father hunt and accompanied him on a hunting trip to Zimbabwe when she was nine. “As badly as I wanted to shoot something I was just too small to hold the guns my dad had brought,” wrote Jones on her page. She spent her time taking candy and toys to “under privileged children” instead.
But Jones was determined to become a trophy hunter. Unlike hunting duck or deer during a specific season to prevent overpopulation, wealthy animal hunters pay thousands of dollars to safari companies that organize opportunities to kill rare beasts. The animals that are shot are handed over to a taxidermist, who usually cuts off and preserves the head, which is then taken home as a trophy.
Advocates of the business claim that the money the hunters bring in helps bolster African economies while ensuring that native people take care of the animals and land. The logic is that if hunting is outlawed, no cash comes in and local folks will have no reason to maintain the animals’ habitat, which will cause the creatures to become extinct anyway.
Jones got her first trophy in 2008 when she was 13. She headed back to South Africa to kill what safari hunting enthusiasts refer to as the big five game animals: lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and southern white rhinoceros. The rhino is considered a near threatened species; it was the first animal Jones ever shot.
The following year she headed out “on a 28 day safari and took an elephant with a shot from a .416 Remington and finished it off with my dad's .470 Nitro Express,” Jones wrote. Two weeks after that trip she returned to Africa to kill a leopard and a hippo, both of which are considered vulnerable species. “I was lucky enough to have all of my hunting adventures professionally videoed and put onto DVD,” wrote Jones, who will be featured on a television show on the Sportsman Channel in 2015.
Jones’ desire to be a reality TV star is what spurred Cape Town resident Keiron Brown to launch a Change.org petition asking African countries to ban the hunter. “She has publicly stated that she hopes to have a television hunting show and she is using endangered and helpless African animals as a stepping to further her popularity on social media platforms,” wrote Brown. So far more than 11,200 people have signed.
A petition on Avaaz.org is asking Facebook to delete Jones’ page because all the photos of her cheesing it up with dead wildlife promote animal cruelty. Nearly 60,000 individuals have expressed their support for it.
Hunting aficionados are rallying behind Jones. More than 40,000 people have “liked” her Facebook page over the past month. Like many big game hunters around the globe, the smiling teen feels no need to stop her activities. “I just want to THANK all of my supporters for their continued encouragement and backing!” wrote Jones on Tuesday. “I will continue to hunt and spread the knowledge of hunting and wildlife conservation.”
UPDATED July 7—4:15 p.m.
Kendall Jones' page is still alive, but most of the photos of her posing with dead leopards, lions, and other animals are gone. Last week, after more than 320,000 people signed a petition asking Facebook to delete the teenage hunter's page, the social media giant stepped up and began axing the pictures. On July 3 the company released a statement saying that it removes “reported content that promotes poaching of endangered species, the sale of animals for organized fight, or content that includes extreme acts of animal abuse.”
One photo of Jones and the creatures she shot and positioned like props remains—a montage of the now-deleted photos that was created by Fox and Friends and shared by the teen. Facebook has yet to respond to questions about why that image is allowed to stay on the platform. Meanwhile, Jones’ page now has more than 480,000 "likes," she's still explaining why hunting is conservation, and her plans for a reality television show are still on.