King Juan Carlos: royal marksman with a preference for big game

Spaniards among leading supporters of hunting on African reserves

King Juan Carlos shooting in Soria province in 2001. / EFE

While Don Juan Carlos’ accident in which he broke a hip was not directly connected to elephant hunting, eyebrows have inevitably been raised by the fact that Spain’s king and the honorary president of WWF-Adena, the Spanish branch of the NGO World Wide Fund For Nature, should travel to Africa to indulge in big game hunting.

Along with South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, Botswana is one of the African nations that has not prohibited elephant hunting. The activity brings money into the country and is regulated by the authorities there. In these countries there are elephant-hunting quotas, with hunters asked to pay “between 7,000 and 20,000 euros” for each trophy, according to the president of the Spanish Hunting Federation, Andrés Gutiérrez Lara.

“Poaching is the problem, but managed hunting is a source of income for Africa’s national parks and everything can be hunted with a license,” Gutiérrez Lara adds.

To the cost of the eventual trophy, travel and accommodation expenses must also be added. This is a sport exclusively for the very rich. Some Spanish companies offer two-week elephant-hunting packages for a price of around $50,000, which can sometimes include a $10,000 refund if the individual does not successfully bring down a pachyderm.

Hunts cost $50,000, which can include a $10,000 refund if no elephant is shot

King Juan Carlos is not a newcomer to these services. Until Saturday afternoon photographs of the monarch with big game trophies could be seen on the Rann Safari company website, before it was closed down.

In 2010, Spain imported seven elephant skins legally from Botswana, plus two trophies and two pairs of tusks, according to the CITES administrative authority, which regulates the trade of protected species.

Indeed, Spain has one of the highest traffic levels when it comes to big game, with 1,608 hunting trophies registered by CITES in 2009, almost double the number in 2004. Most come from Africa, but Eastern Europe is also a destination for hunters.

King Juan Carlos is well known to be an enthusiastic hunter, which, along with sailing, is his favorite pursuit. He gave up skiing after a heavy fall.

The king reportedly killed a Russian bear which had been made drunk with "vodka and honey"

The monarch has an extensive collection of shotguns and possesses several hunting records. In Spain, he is a regular at shoots organized at some of the country’s leading hunting grounds, recently favoring La Encomienda de Mudela, in Ciudad Real province, where red-legged partridge can be shot. After his recent health problems and injuries, the king had a special portable seat designed for him with a back and arms to allow him to rest from his hunting exertions while still in the field.

The monarch’s love for hunting has a deep-rooted family origin, although it is also the source of his most bitter memory. In 1956 Juan Carlos accidently shot and killed his younger brother, Alfonso de Borbón, when a pistol he was handling went off accidently. The future king was 18 at the time, and his younger brother just 14.

In 2006 Spain’s king was reportedly involved in a controversial bear hunt in Russia. The governor of the Vologda region opened an “interdepartmental working group” to establish the facts behind a story that was reported in the Russian and Spanish media, which alleged the king had been part of an “abominable scene” when hunting in the area that summer. According to the version printed by the Kommersant newspaper, the hunted animal was a “kind and cheerful bear named Mitrofan,” who had been part of a tourist attraction in the town of Noviens.

According to this version of events, Mitrofan was put in a cage and taken to the hunt, where he was given “vodka mixed with honey.” The king is said to have “taken him down with one shot.”

Prior to Friday’s accident, the fact that the king was in Botswana on a hunting trip had not been made public — palace policy is not to inform of the monarch’s private engagements. He is reported to have used a private plane to make the journey to southern Africa, as well as for the hurried return flight.

The incident comes less than a week after the king’s eldest grandson, Felipe Froilán, apparently shot himself through the foot with a shotgun, despite the fact that at 13 years of age, he is legally too young to use such a weapon.

The official version given out to journalists was that Froilán was doing some shooting practice with his father, Jaime de Marichalar, although Queen Sofía mentioned during a visit to the boy in hospital that he had been “out hunting” at the time.

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