Authorities in Romania have launched an investigation amid accusations Arthur, the largest bear in the country, was killed in March by a European prince.
Romania is home to Europe’s biggest population of brown bears, officially around 6,000 — although some scientists dispute these figures — and officially banned trophy hunting in 2016.
It now only grants hunting permits for “problematic” bears which are sold to trophy hunters.
Official hunting documents seen by The Associated Press confirms that Prince Emanuel von und zu Liechtenstein was granted a four-day hunting permit in March in Romania's Covasna County and that on March 13 he “harvested” a 17-year-old brown bear, for which he allegedly paid €7,000.
But according to the Agent Green NGO, the derogation granted to the prince was to kill a female bear that had caused some damage to local farms.
"Arthur was 17 years old and was the largest bear observed in Romania and probably the largest living in the European Union," the NGO said in a statement, adding that it "wonders how the prince could have mistaken a female with cubs coming to the village with a large male that lived deep in the forest."
A senior official from Romania's environmental ministry, Octavian Berceanu, told the AP that an investigation into the case was launched on April 29 and that poaching is one of the suspicions in the case.
“All of the papers from National Environmental Guard will go to the police,” he said, referring to a branch of the ministry.
Berceanu also said that some official papers that are required after a bear kill are missing.
“The local environment agency should inform the Environmental Guard after the shooting, but this didn’t happen,” Berceanu said.
Repeated attempts to contact the prince's estate were unsuccessful. Switzerland’s Blick newspaper quoted the prince as saying he wouldn't comment on the matter.
Environment minister Barna Tanczos told local media on Wednesday that determining whether the correct bear was killed was “extremely complicated.”
A petition launched yesterday by Agent Green calling for a total trophy hunting ban in Romania has garnered more than 13,000 signatures.
The killing of the large carnivore took place in a protected Natura 2000 Site, areas of special natural interest and home to some of Europe’s most valuable and threatened species, protected under EU law.
“The current law is poor, there are too many grey areas and it’s facilitating trophy hunters to come to Romania,” Gabriel Paun, president of Agent Green, said.
“At the moment anyone can make a fake complaint about a bear and send it to a hunting association who will do all the necessary work to obtain a hunting permit — then a hunter comes and shoots any bear they wish.”