The largest wild animal in Britain may have been killed by a foreign hunter lured to the UK after a bounty was placed on its magnificent head and impressive antlers, it was claimed today.
The majestic nine-foot tall stag, dubbed the ‘Emperor of Exmoor’, was shot and killed by marksmen just outside Exmoor country park.
Witnesses reported hearing two shots from a high velocity rifle before seeing the stag’s crumpled body lying near Rackenford, north Devon.
A thorough search just a short time later found traces of blood where the might stag had fallen, but the carcass had been removed.
Today it emerged that foreign huntsmen – probably European trophy hunters – may have felled The Emperor after a bounty was literally placed on his head.
The 12-year-old red deer – which weighed 300lbs – was thought to have been gunned down as a ”trophy” with its head and magnificent antlers worth at least £2,000.
A local farmer, who asked not to be named, said: ”There has been a price on his head for years – with figures stretching to around £1,250.
”No one knows who killed it, but rumours have been circulating around here that the hunter came from abroad, probably Europe.”
John Norris, from the Tiverton Staghounds group, based near to the reported killing site of Rackenford, feared the stag’s notoriety may have been the main incentive for the hunter.
He said: ”We used to have another big stag around here called Bruno. But like The Emperor – his name got about and then he was killed.
”People came here during the shooting season looking for him in particular – and the same may have happened to the Emperor.”
The internet is full of websites offering huntsmen from around the world prime hunting and stalking in the UK.
Sites are legal and are littered with photographs of marksmen posing with their kill.
Professional groups offer hunting packages – ranging from around £140 to £200-a-day – to kill Red Deer across England.
Landowners use the gun-toting hunters to legally cull the deer and keep numbers down to protect crops.
The website ‘Field and Forest’ boasts it has access to the ”best stalking that the UK has to offer”.
Alongside pictures of bloodied stag’s bodies, it proudly proclaims: ”We pride ourselves on quality hunting and stalking having hunted many world destinations for over 20 years.”
Another called ‘Uk Deer Management’ offers hunters two ‘outings’ at a cost of £140 – with rifle hire from just £25.
Meanwhile outraged animal lovers took to the internet to express their dismay over the death of the Exmoor Emperor.
A Facebook page dedicated to the animal said simply: “The Exmoor Emperor (is) dead, who ever killed him is scum”.
One group member, Karen Perfit, wrote: ”It’s totally disgusting that this fine wild animal has been slaughtered.
”Even during the mating season he was not left alone.
”Killed so he can be placed on some snooty rich toff’s wall – he should be ashamed on himself.”