THE hunter became the hunted as public anger grew over the killing of Britain’s largest wild animal, a red deer stag known as the Emperor of Exmoor.
The stag was killed on the edge of Exmoor National Park, near the village of Rackenford, south west England, a few days after his photograph appeared in national newspapers. The animal is believed to have been shot by a hunter who is rumoured to have paid a private landowner thousands of pounds for the privilege.
A Facebook page has been set up condemning the killing of the 136kg red stag on October 8, at the start of the rutting season, and newspaper websites including that of The Times have been inundated with comments from appalled readers.
The shooting was heard by a deer watcher who shortly afterwards saw the stag’s magnificent head being loaded into a vehicle. There is no suggestion that the shooter or the landowner did anything illegal. Deer belong to the owner of the land, who has the right to take them during the shooting season.
However, many local people have been angered that the Emperor was killed. One woman said: “There has always been an unspoken agreement that you don’t go after the really big stags, the ones the tourists come to see, and whoever shot Emperor has broken that. A lot of people are angry.”
Among them is Johnny Kingdom, the wildlife film-maker who lives near the area where the Emperor was taken and had seen him many times.
One local farmer claimed yesterday that a bounty had been placed on the 12-year-old red deer. “There has been a price on his head for years, with figures stretching to around £1250,” he said. “No one knows who killed it, but rumours have circulated that the hunter came from abroad, probably Europe.”
John Norris, from the Tiverton Staghounds group, feared the deer’s notoriety might have been the hunter’s main incentive. He said: “We used to have another big stag here called Bruno, but like the Emperor his name got about and then he was killed.”
Phil Lock, of Trophy Taxidermy in Oban, Scotland, who has not been approached about the Emperor, said that as a display item the head would not be worth much more than the £1000 cost of mounting it.