Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Blake Fischer is under pressure to resign, after he shared photos from a hunting trip to Africa that showed him posing with a "family of baboons" that he said he killed.
In one photo, Fischer smiles as he props up the heads of two baboons, with a young animal sitting in another baboon's lap. The photos are part of an email that was initially acquired by the Idaho Statesman through a public information request filed with the governor's office.
Other photos from the trip show Fischer and his wife posing with more than a dozen animals they killed, including a giraffe and a leopard, according to descriptions in the email. It was his wife's first visit to Africa, he said in the email, so he started by going after the baboons.
Some of the email's recipients told the Statesman that they found the images and text disturbing — either on a personal level, or because they could cast hunting and the Idaho wildlife agency in a bad light.
Fischer was appointed to the commission by Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter. On Monday, the governor's spokesman, Jon Hanian, told NPR by email that Otter "is very concerned about these developments and our office is actively looking into this matter."
When asked for comment on the controversy, a spokesman for the state agency told NPR, "Fischer was appointed by the governor and is not an employee of Idaho Fish and Game, so we have no comment on this matter."
Fischer is one of seven current Fish and Game commissioners, representing Idaho's southwest region. He was appointed in 2014 and reappointed in June. Idaho's Senate is expected to decide whether to approve his second term when it meets in January.
Several of the agency's former commissioners have called on Fischer to resign. Fred Trevey, who left the commission in 2015, said that while he believes Fischer's hunt was legal, "legal does not make it right," according to an email response that the Statesman also obtained. Trevey added that the baboon image did not meet standards of sportsmanship.
In response, Fischer told the newspaper that he had followed all the rules set by officials in Namibia and that the uproar concerns what are normal hunting photos. Fischer also acknowledged that some people might be taken aback by seeing baboons killed in a hunt: "I get it — they're a weird animal. It's a primate, not a deer."
Namibia's trophy hunting is controlled by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, which issues special permits for hunting big game such as zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, impalas and other animals. But, Fischer told the Statesman, "baboons are free."
The controversy also has been bubbling on social media. Facebook posts from both Otter and the wildlife agency on mundane topics were essentially hijacked by more than 400 comments — many of them calling for the commissioner to resign or be fired.
One of the most popular reactions to the fish and wildlife agency came from Sue Wallace Roehl, who called Fischer's actions "disgusting." She added, "Slaughtering beautiful animals just to feed your ego is not hunting."
A handful of responses defended Fischer, stressing that the hunt was legal. And at least one former commissioner has said he believes Fischer is an ethical hunter.
Another view came from Steve Alder, executive director of the pro-hunting group Idaho for Wildlife, who told the Statesman that he viewed the photos as over the line.
Alder, whose organization has taken a stand against the spread of wolves in Idaho, said:
"The biggest thing is the baboon thing. I was really troubled. That's my biggest issue. He killed the whole baboon family and you've got little junior laying there in mom's lap. 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."