BUCHAREST, Romania – The apparent murder of a large brown bear in Romania by a member of the Liechtenstein royal family has sparked anger in the southeastern European country, which has officially banned trophy hunting in 2016 but allows the murder of bears deemed to be problematic. Licenses to kill these bears can cost several thousand dollars.
The murder, which took place in March, came to light this week after two environmental groups accused Prince Emanuel von und zu Liechtenstein of killing the bear, nicknamed Arthur, in a protected area in the Carpathians. Romanian police have opened a criminal investigation into Arthur’s death, with poaching being one of the potential charges.
While the prince, who lives in Austria, had obtained a permit from the Romanian environment ministry to shoot a female bear that was raising cubs that had caused damage to farms, he was accused of killing Arthur at the square.
Attempts to contact the prince’s office went unanswered. Earlier in the week, the office told the Agence France-Presse news agency it knew nothing about what it called a “private and personal matter.”
In a press release, Gabriel Paun, chairman of Agent Green, a Romanian environmental organization, described Arthur as 17 years old, the largest bear seen in Romania, and possibly the largest living in the European Union.
Mr. Paun wondered how the prince could have confused Arthur, who apparently lived deep in the forest, with the much smaller female bear. “It is clear that the prince did not come to solve the problem of the locals but to kill the bear and bring home the biggest trophy to hang on the wall,” he said.
In a television interview Thursday evening, Romanian Environment Minister Tanczos Barna said his ministry had stopped allowing authorized bear killings by anyone except members of the hunting organization that submitted the request. . This decision would effectively put an end to the sale of hunting licenses in Romania to external hunters.
Romania has the largest brown bear population in the European Union, where the species is strictly protected, with steadily escalating tensions between bear populations and rural communities. Romania’s official bear population is 6,000, but on Thursday evening Mr Barna said there were more than 7,000 bears in the country.
Romania banned trophy hunting in 2016, but grants permits to kill bears that have endangered human life and property, and only then as a last resort after options such as resettlement have failed. Official documents show Prince Emanuel was granted a four-day permit in March, which reportedly cost him around $ 8,500.
Although hunting associations help control dangerous bears, there are concerns that the system in place is ineffective and ripe for abuse.
Octavian Berceanu, the head of Romania’s National Environmental Guard protection agency, said there were significant issues with the documentation justifying the recent murder.
“They said for 20 consecutive days that they had observed a bear causing a lot of damage,” he said of the hunting association which applied for the permit used by the prince’s group, adding that the asks “lacked evidence, missing a photo.” or pictures. These papers are made without objective evidence, just a report that for 20 days a bear came here and did damage.
Others also see larger systemic issues with licensing.
“As of the second half of 2017, the vast majority were actually used for trophy hunting and they were justified,” citing the damage caused by the animals, said Csaba Domokos, a bear expert from the Milvus Group, an organization of conservation with special permits.
“In most cases, the bears that were ultimately shot had nothing to do” with the damage for which the permits had been granted, he said.
Mr Domokos said a lot of property damage was caused by females with young. But hunters don’t like to kill females, especially those with young, so they often point out that solitary males are responsible and hunt them.
“These big bears are the least likely to cause these kinds of problems because otherwise they wouldn’t have reached this size,” he said.