UK's 'biggest stag' Exmoor Emperor shot dead
A giant red stag, thought to have been the biggest wild land animal in the UK, has been shot dead.
The creature, named the Exmoor Emperor, weighed more than 135kg (300lb) and stood nearly 2.75m (9ft) tall. It was killed in the middle of the annual rut.
A witness reported hearing two shots before seeing the stag's body near Rackenford, north Devon. The carcass was removed soon after.
A licensed hunter rather than poacher is thought to have killed Emperor.
Some deer experts say wild red stags should be protected during the mating season.
Red deer stags are the biggest indigenous land animal left in the UK.
The Exmoor Emperor was given its name by photographer Richard Austin, who said he was not surprised at the shooting.
He said: "With a set of antlers that this deer had, it was going to kill him in the end.
"Growing that big and that huge and that magnificent, he was a definite target."
The witness who saw the stag's body said they recognised it as being the Exmoor Emperor as it was being taken away.
Peter Donnelly, an Exmoor-based deer management expert, said it was a disgrace the animal, which is believed to have been 10 to 12 years old, had been shot during the mating season.
"It could be that he didn't get a chance to rut properly this year, therefore his genes have not been passed on this time round," he said.
"The poor things should be left alone during the rut, not harried from pillar to post. If we care about deer we should maintain a standard and stop all persecution during this important time of the year."
A deer enthusiast, who did not want to be named, said a group of people had been out watching stags earlier this month close to where Emperor was found.
The man said a shot had been heard very close to the Tiverton to Barnstaple road.
Red deer stalking - the law:
- The hunting season in England and Wales runs from 1 August to 30 April
- Rifles used have to be at least .24 in calibre
- Bullets must be expanding/hollow nosed to ensure rapid death
- Hunters must hold a valid rifle licence and have permission of the landowner
- The number of red deer on Exmoor is estimated at between 2,000 and 2,500
Mr Donnelly, from Dulverton in Somerset, agreed that competition for stags was becoming intense.
"There are people who are prepared to spend quite ridiculous sums of money to have a trophy on their wall.
"People talk about £1,000 for a good head, but I've heard there are those who will pay a lot more."
He said some older stags needed to be culled after a certain age, but Emperor had been in good health.
But the huge stag's empire may yet survive.
Mr Donnelly said he had seen a very large young stag in the past few days - which could well be the offspring of Emperor from an earlier rutting season.