Wellington – Conservationists have criticised players from New Zealand's Canterbury Crusaders Super 15 team for killing wildlife, including a zebra, while touring in South Africa, then posing in photographs with the 'trophy' carcasses.

South African conservation group The Landmark Foundation posted pictures on Facebook showing five Crusaders players with the animals, alongside the caption: “Here are the Crusaders rugby players killing wildlife for laughs on a recent visit to South Africa.”

The players include All Black lock Sam Whitelock and inside back Tom Taylor, who has blood smeared on his face in one shot as he holds a rifle in one hand and the horn of a dead blesbok antelope in the other.

Foundation director Bool Smuts said the animals were most likely killed on a private game farm.

“This was not hunting for the pot, this was hunting for the joy of killing the animal,” he told the New Zealand Herald.

“We accept it was legal... the question we are asking is to what value is it for conservation and is it an ethical practice?”

Whitelock told New Zealand broadcaster TV3 that meat from the dead zebra was given to local farm workers for food.

“I didn't eat it but the people on the farm did,” he said. “It's something that I've been brought up with my whole life. I've always made sure that we eat the things that we've hunted.”

Crusaders chief executive Hamish Riach said the players were doing nothing illegal and they had been singled out by anti-trophy hunting activists who were using them to promote their agenda.

“They're grown men, they were in their own time and they were partaking in a very legal activity,” he told TV3.

“They weren't poaching, they weren't endangered species, they didn't have an illegal guide. It was all very, very appropriate and done within the context of the legal industry in South Africa.”

He said the Crusaders would not ban hunting on future trips to South Africa. – Sapa-AFP