Royal hunting row puts Africa safaris in cross-hairs

Thu Apr 19, 2012 12:55pm EDT
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By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - If Spain's king had shot an elephant in Botswana during his ill-fated hunting excursion it would have been one of perhaps 150,000 that roam the vast southern African country, so the monarch was hardly contributing to the species' extinction.

But his jaunt has thrown an unflattering spotlight on Africa's elephant hunting industry, which some argue is needed to keep swelling populations contained but critics see as an obscene pastime of the idle rich.

King Juan Carlos hobbled out of a Madrid hospital on Wednesday and apologized for making the elephant-hunting trip - one that caused outrage in a country suffering an economic crisis. The 74-year-old broke his hip and was flown back to Spain for emergency replacement surgery.

He is not reported to have bagged an elephant on this trip but Spanish media circulated a photograph of him in front of a dead elephant that apparently had been posted on a safari website and had been taken in 2006. The photo was later removed from the website.

Similar outrage greeted photos that went viral online of U.S. property magnate Donald Trump's sons with animals, including a Cape buffalo and a leopard, that they shot in Zimbabwe.

Many of the animals legally hunted in Africa as trophies are not highly endangered, or at least not in countries such as Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, where such activities are permitted.

Take Botswana, the world's top diamond producer which is also rich in elephants.

According to a 2007 estimate by the African Elephant Specialist Group for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) - regarded by scientists as the most authoritative - Botswana was home to at least 133,000 elephants but around 150,000 was given as the "probable" figure.   Continued...

Spain's King Juan Carlos (C) leaves his room at a hospital after being discharged in Madrid April 18, 2012. REUTERS/Paco Campos/Pool