European animal rights groups have accused a member of the Liechtenstein royal family of illegally killing the largest known brown bear in Romania – and possibly of the entire European Union – prompting outcry and an investigation by Romanian authorities.
The 17-year-old male brown bear, identified as “Arthur” by Romanian environmental organisation Agent Green, was shot dead in the protected area of Oituz-Ojdula in northeastern Romania in mid-March. Both Agent Green and Austrian animal rights group VGT have accused Prince Emanuel von und zu Liechtenstein, a member of the royal family of the European microstate that borders Switzerland and Austria, of killing Arthur during a hunting trip.
Brown bears are a protected species within the EU and bear hunting has been mostly banned in Romania since 2016, but there are a few exceptions. If a bear is threatening those around them or causing damage, for example, the environmental ministry can grant special hunting permits.
A supposed hunting permit published by BBC News appears to have been issued to Prince von und zu Liechtenstein on the 12th of March, granting him permission to hunt one bear in Ojdula. But VGT and Agent Green said that the permit was granted for a female bear that was causing problems in the same area.
Romania’s National Environmental Guard confirmed that a permit had been granted for a female bear and that it was investigating why a male bear had been shot.
While few details of the killing have been officially confirmed, in an email to VICE World News, VGT and Agent Green described the situation as “fishy.”
While the initial complaints of the female bear appeared in the summer of 2020, it was only at the end of January that a farmer wrote officials asking for the bear to be killed, the two groups claim. Just weeks later, in mid-February, the papers required for the prince’s hunting trip were allegedly sent in.
The groups also point out that the prince should have been able to tell the difference between a much smaller female brown bear and the largest bear in Romania.
“It seems reasonable to assume that it was never about killing this female bear, but about a big trophy for the Prince from the start,” the groups wrote. “Of course, we do not know whether the prince himself commissioned these processes or whether he had no knowledge of them.”
“But if that had been an accident on his part, he should have noticed that, instead of a small bear, he killed what is probably the largest bear in Europe and would now be openly saddened,” they continued.
In a statement to VICE World News, the Office of the Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein said it did not know the details of this case and was therefore unable to comment.
“However, Princely House would like to point out that respect for nature has been one of the fundamental concerns of the House and is a central element of the family's commitment to ecological and social sustainability,” the statement said.
While brown bears used to be found across continental Europe, hunting and dwindling habitats meant that many populations were wiped out. Romania alone is home to 6,000 brown bears, representing 60 percent of the total European population.
Environmental and animal rights groups are pointing to the case as evidence for the need for stricter regulations.
“It's outrageous that influential people can hunt protected animals in other countries for a lot of money!” VGT and Agent Green wrote. “Some elite people see protected animals as something - not someone - rare, they need for their collection to hang on their wall so they can show off their status. In these circles hunting is seen as a social gathering, like golfing.”
“We demand a general ban on trophy hunting and on the import of trophies, as in the ivory trade, and we appeal to the prince to abandon this bloody hobby,” they added.