A giant red stag, considered to be the largest native wild animal in Britain, has been shot and killed by hunters. Officials now say the shooting was perfectly legal.
Known as the Exmoor Emperor, the huge deer was nine feet tall and weighed in excess of 300 pounds. Trophy hunters tracked him down and killed him last week. It is believed licensed guns were used to kill the Emperor, making this a legal shooting.
The Emperor was killed in order for his head to be stuffed and hung on someone's wall. It is estimated that the Emperor's head will bring in more than $3,000 -- double the price for the average deer.
Animal activists are outraged at the shooting, especially because it came during mating season, also known as "rutting" season.
"'I am very concerned that people are stalking and shooting deer in the rut," said deer management expert Peter Donnelly. "It’s a disgrace that this magnificent animal has been shot at this time because it could be that he didn’t get a chance to rut properly this year - therefore his genes have not been passed on this time round."
He added, "The poor things should be left alone during the rut - not harried from pillar to post. If we care about deer we should maintain a standard and stop all persecution during this important time of the year."
However, others say the deer herd must be thinned out. The deer population has exploded in Britain, more than doubling since the 1970s, now standing at two million. Deer are blamed for up to 74,000 car crashes every year, killing an average of 12 people.
"It is kindest to kill them in older age because a deer’s incisors get worn down and they can’t eat properly," Donnelly admitted. "They can only hoover up food and that won’t be good enough so they are going to die a slow death of starvation in the winter - there are no longer natural predators around to kill them quickly."
However, Donnelly said, "'Yes, the Emperor was starting to get past his best, but he was definitely not at that stage yet."
Just last month, wildlife photographer Richard Austin was able to snap photos of the elusive Emperor, making him, and unfortunately the animal's killers, among just the handful of people who ever set eyes on the Emperor.
Photo courtesy Richard Austin