Outrage at bear-faced cheek of killer king

 

      CARMIOLA IONESCU IN BUCHAREST

 

 

      IN THE rest of Europe it is not considered the sport of kings. Now Spain’s

      King Juan Carlos has come under fire from conservationist groups after

      shooting bears in Romania just as the WWF was staging an international

      forum to showcase their work in integrating bear and human populations.

 

      The WWF trip was organised to show the world’s media how bears and humans

      had learned to live in peaceful co-existence. But WWF sources claim the

      good work was undone by the hunting trip, which drew local newspaper

      headlines with reports of the King’s weekend hunt and his group’s

      "success" at shooting nine animals including a pregnant female.

 

      The respected Carpathian animal protection group, the Aves Foundation,

      said King Juan Carlos and his entourage killed nine bears while hunting.

      The foundation claimed he then left two others wounded, which his

      attendants were unable to kill, and lost track of after pelting them with

      bullets.

 

      The Aves Foundation claims he also killed a number of wolves and wild boar

      during his two-day trip, staying at one of former dictator Nicolae

      Ceausescu’s hunting lodges in Covasna, central Romania.

 

      Laszlo Szabo-Szeley, president of the group, said: "Only Ceausescu did

      things like this. No moral hunter in this world kills more than one bear

      because it is completely unethical.

 

      "The Spanish king left behind two wounded bears that he and his hunting

      party couldn’t find after they shot them. The biggest crime they committed

      is killing a pregnant female bear. This was definitely not a hunt, it was

      a massacre."

 

      He added that he believes the King only came to Romania because in Spain

      only 27 bears can be legally hunted every year.

 

      A spokesman for the King described the visit as private and refused to

      comment on what he was doing in the country.

 

      But Sarkany Arpad, head of Romanian company Abies Hunting, which organised

      the hunting trip, said the King himself had only bagged a single bear

      among his kills.

 

      He said: "Fourteen animals were shot by the King and his entourage, but

      only five of these were bears. The King shot only one bear, two wolves,

      and two wild boars."

 

      He added that the King had paid roughly £40,000 for the entire trip, which

      included a standard licence fee to go on the hunt as well as extra fees

      for each animal he shot.

 

      The WWF refused to comment directly on the King’s trip, but when asked

      about hunting bears a spokesman for the organisation in Romania said: "We

      are currently undertaking a study on bears and until that is finished we

      cannot comment on the impact of hunting on bear communities."

 

      King Juan Carlos is known to be a keen hunter and has hunted in the past

      in many countries, at times with other foreign leaders and even with

      former US president George Bush Snr.

 

      But this is not the first time the Spanish King has drawn the wrath of

      conservation groups over his passion for blood sports.

 

      Last year he came in for fierce criticism for killing a rare wild European

      bison during a hunt in Poland’s Borecka forest, one of Europe’s last

      surviving areas of ancient woodland.

 

      Poland’s foreign minister, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, accompanied him on the

      hunt.

 

      The bison is among the world’s rarest animals with only about 1,600

      remaining, and the Polish Society for the Protection of Animals condemned

      the hunt and the government’s decision to let the animal be shot as a

      "total scandal".

 

      The King reportedly paid £4,700 to be allowed to shoot the 100-stone

      bison.

 

      The latest incident in Romania will only add to growing fears that the

      brown bear will soon become extinct in the region. Romania is one of the

      few countries in Europe that permits limited bear hunting.

 

      Hunting-tourism has become big business in Romania’s Carpathian Mountains,

      the last place in Europe apart from Russia, where many large carnivores,

      bears, wolves and lynxes, can be found.

 

      Organised hunts in the country have grown popular with Europe’s rich and

      elite who often pay tens of thousands of pounds for hunting trips

      organised by specialised companies.

 

      Recently a number of celebrities and politicians, including French

      President Jacques Chirac and actress Brigitte Bardot, wrote a letter to

      Romania’s Prime Minister Adrian Nastase to voice their concerns about the

      fate of the bear.

 

      Their letter was partly in response to the government’s decision to allow

      the shooting of 300 bears each year.

 

      Aves’ Laszlo Szabo-Szeley has also sent a report to Nastase which details

      evidence that the bear population is down from the official figure of

      6,300 to 2,500.

 

      The Aves Foundation report argued: "Romania’s kill figures for the

      trophy-hunter market are way above a sustainable cull. They endanger the

      species."

 

      But Nastase, who is also chairman of the Romanian Association of Hunters,

      has rejected claims that the bear population has dropped so dramatically.

 

      The European Union responded to the Aves Foundation’s concerns by pointing

      out that member states "have to ensure a favourable conservation status of

      natural habitats and species of wild fauna and flora of Community

      interest".

 

      Gunther Verheugen, the EU commissioner in charge of supervising membership

      applications, has said that if Romania entered the trading bloc as it

      hoped to, European law would prohibit the bear hunting.