The ‘Emperor of Exmoor’ stag was today rumoured to be alive and well – with locals insisting they have SEEN the mighty beast since its reported death.
A mysterious, unnamed witness had claimed the 9ft tall, 300lbs red stag had been killed by bounty hunters after a price of more than £1,000 was put on its head.
It was presumed the creature – the biggest wild animal in Britain – was gunned down by marksmen seeking the large cash sum for his prized head and antlers.
But since reports of his apparent killing two weeks ago in Rackenford, north Devon, no one has come forward to claim the kill or produce hard evidence of it.
There are no known photographs of the beast’s body and landowners in the area have denied they sanctioned the killing.
Now farmers on Exmoor claim talk of the Emperor’s demise is a ”myth” which was invented to protect the animal from rogue hunters.
Lesley Prior, 54, a farmer in nearby Oakford, said: ”The animal has been seen regularly after the time he was supposedly shot near Rackenford.
”I live less than three miles from where this beast was supposedly shot two weeks ago.
”My builder, who lives five miles away on Exmoor, was telling me a few days ago that the stag had been in his garden last week.
”Most locals are fiercely protective of this stag, knowing him very well and alerting all to any perceived threat from poachers.
”This includes members of the local stag hunt who have a considerable respect for this elderly male and were not keen to see him end up as a trophy on someone’s wall.
”I won’t believe he is dead until I see actual evidence of it.”
Locals also claim a large stag – purportedly the Emperor – has been spotted nearby, with rumours rife around Winsford, a scenic village just a few miles from Rackenford.
A villager in Winsford, who did not want to be named, said: ”There has been a lot of talk in the village about a large stag spotted in the hills here.
”Some people have claimed it is the Emperor.”