Last Week, a 27-year-old Czech woman named Michaela Michaelka Fialova published a video of herself on Facebook teaching viewers how to prepare impala and zebra steaks. The videos were a direct rebuke by Fialova (known to some as the "Sexy Hunter" for her habit of posting selfies with freshly killed African animals) to a February petition launched by anti-hunting activists looking to ban her from Facebook and prevent her from ever returning to Africa.
Fialova, the daughter of a big game hunter in the town of Litomerice in the northwest of the Czech Republic and a graduate of a local hunting school, has been killing things for ages and has long documented her exploits on a dedicated Facebook page. Then, somewhat suddenly on February 18, a woman named Alice Susan Harding from the United Kingdom decided to start a change.org petition against her. Entitled "Ban Michaela Michaelka Fialova from Africa and shut down her Facebook page promoting trophy hunting as being a glamorous thing to do," the campaign (which currently has 12,820 signatures) seems to argue that Fialova is a particularly odious and dangerous individual.
"It's despicable and repulsive to glorify trophy hunting and sadistic practices such as bow hunting and posing with dead bodies of animals as if hunting is an appealing and desirable thing to do," reads the petition. "Killing animals for fun is just plain wrong and must be stopped."
The sentiment of many respondents is much less measured than the petition's text, using very visceral, ad hominem, and frankly demeaning language to threaten and attack Fialova.
"Fucking cunt," wrote one signatory. "Hunt the bitch n skin her alive n pose w her rotting carcass..show her how 'glamorous' it is..BITCHTWAT."
Despite all the spleen being vented against her, Fialova has continued hunting unabated. She is currently in South Africa, stalking giraffes, hyenas, and waterbucks (her second trip this year, following a visit to Hungary and Slovakia to shoot some bears). While there, she has continued to post photos of her exploits and started to publicly goad, bait, and challenge her critics.
"Hey antis, do you really think this will stop me???:-D J J," Fialova posted on Facebook on February 23, soon after the petition vent viral. "I WILL NEVER STOP HUNTING!!!!"
Along with these general taunts and reaffirmations of her pastime, Fialova has tried to argue that her opponents are hypocrites, pointing out that they selectively criticize her hunting as cruelty but still consume factory farmed meat. (It's also noteworthy that many activists take issue with legal big game hunting in Africa, but not with similar hunters and hunts in America or Europe.)
She has also posted articles arguing that the money she and others pay for the right to conduct strictly controlled hunts helps support private breeding programs and preserves that stimulate local economies and protect animals better than state-run nature conservation programs.
Yet many studies of the African big game hunting industry, a $200 million a year business involving 18,500 foreign hunters that brings down 105,000 animals a year (none of which are critically endangered) suggest that the hunting-as-conservation argument is flawed: Supposedly sustainable kill quotas may be bloated and detrimental (600 lions killed per year equals 2.4 percent of the continent's wild population), and income generated by the industry may be funneled away from local economies and wildlife protection funds by corrupt officials operating in a general atmosphere of poor governance and impunity. Participating in this system, and justifying it by selectively engaging the arguments that support one's hobby as an objective good, is a questionable choice.
But to be fair, all of the hunts Fialova has bragged about have been legal and controlled. In fact, the impala and zebra she's drawn criticism for eating recently can actually be commercially produced—sustainable zebra was a brief health craze in America last year. Given that she hasn't actually done anything illegal, the choice to target Fialova as an individual woman and attempt to ban her from an entire continent (thousands of other hunters and whole organizations openly display their trophies and promote big game shoots) seems odd.
While it might be odd, targeting female hunters for aggressive social media and travel bans is actually kind of a thing. In 2014, a lifelong huntress and Texas cheerleader, 19-year-old Kendall Jones, had a similar change.org petition filed against her for posting shots online of herself with kills in Africa. (Like Fialova, she defended herself as a conservationist by way of hunting.) And in 2013 TV personality Melissa Bachman took flak for posing with a lion shot in the Maroi Conservancy in South Africa. In none of these cases were the women's photos unprecedented compared to other hunters' publicly searchable and shared hunting selfies, or their activities and followings particularly huge, supporting the theory that there's some gendered (and as seen above often very hostile) discrimination going on here.
Like it or not, Fialova has done nothing illegal. While you might personally think she's a heartless killer, attacking her as an individual (especially violently and vulgarly) will likely do little to nothing to change the licit and massive industry she participates in. (It's not even clear upon what grounds her entire Facebook account versus individual offensive photos could be removed, much less how she'd be banned from Africa—which is not one cohesive country that will react to a change.org petition unanimously.)
In fact, the petition seems to be backfiring on animal lovers. Before this whole controversy, Fialova had slowly built up 19,000 Facebook followers. But since the petition launched, she's up to over 21,500. A huntress who relies on sponsorships to pay for her gear and ammo, she'll likely be able to parlay the publicity of these attacks and her responses to them into the funds to carry out even more African expeditions. The bitterness of the whole affair may even win her the sympathy of folks, especially women, who'd never have considered hunting otherwise. So I guess the moral of this story is if you're going to put together an internet mob, load them up with e-pitchforks, and send them in the direction of an individual who hasn't broken any laws, make sure your target's offensive hobby isn't directly tied to her internet popularity, lest the whole thing end up enabling her to do more of the very thing you were trying to stop her from doing in the first place.