Donald Trump's sons are facing a media firestorm this week after photos of them posing with a dead elephant, leopard and other animals they shot on a safari in Zimbabwe surfaced online.


The photos show Donald Jr., 34, and Eric, 28, embracing a dead leopard, posing behind a slain civet, and standing next to a dead elephant with its chopped-off tail in Donald's hand. The pictures were first posted on the website Hunting Legends, where they are now hidden behind a password-protected firewall. The celebrity gossip site TMZ has posted them here.


The photos raised criticism from animal rights and conservation groups. "If the young Trumps are looking for a thrill, perhaps they should consider skydiving, bungee jumping, or even following in their anti-hunting father's footsteps and taking down competing businesses — not wild animals," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said in a statement to E! News.


"Whilst it is bad enough shooting an elephant for pleasure, posing with the tail of such a magnificent beast that you have just cut off with a large knife is a gross and unpardonable action," wrote the publisher of the U.K.-based Wildlife Extra news site. "It may not be illegal, but it shows a total disregard for any wildlife, and unbelievably poor judgment from someone who is meant to be a business leader."


Father and "Celebrity Apprentice" host Donald Trump told TMZ, "My sons love hunting. They're hunters and they've become good at it. I am not a believer in hunting, and I'm surprised they like it." Both of Trump's sons are involved in his real estate empire and appear on his television show.


Donald Trump Jr., defended his actions on Twitter, saying none of the animals they hunted were endangered and many faced issues related to overpopulation, and that the hunting fees the brothers paid help fund conservation efforts. While he says he did not release the photos, he tweeted "I have no shame about them either."


He also tweeted that nearby villagers "were so happy for the meat which they don't often get to eat." But Johnny Rodriquez of the Zimbabwe Conservation Taskforce told The Telegraph that the areas near where the men hunted are sparsely populated by humans, so the meat was unlikely to benefit the locals. "Because of the state of the country, there is also very little transparency about where the money these hunters spend goes," he also said. "If they want to help Zimbabwe, there are many better ways to do so."


Elephants are not endangered, but international trade in their body parts, most specifically their ivory tusks, is prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. This also limits, although it does not completely restrict, hunters from bringing home elephant trophies from their hunts. It is not clear if the Trump sons collected trophies from their kills or merely photographed them.


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