At 17 years old, the brown bear known as “Arthur” may have been the largest in all of Europe. But conservationists admit it’s hard to know for sure — after all, it’s not like the continent’s bears line up every year to be measured.
Arthur’s remarkable size may turn out to have unexpected political significance. A young prince from the tiny nation of Liechtenstein is accused of killing the bear during a trophy hunt in Romania, and authorities have launched an investigation into whether he did so illegally. Romania’s prime minister, meanwhile, is facing criticism for downplaying the incident by claiming that there are bigger bears.
Home to the largest number of brown bears in the European Union, a point of national pride, Romania bans trophy hunting but allows exceptions when bears are threatening people or killing farm animals. Prince Emanuel von und zu Liechtenstein was granted a permit to kill a female bear, who had been menacing a village in the Carpathian Mountains, according to environmental groups. But somehow Arthur, who lived in a nature reserve nearby, ended up getting killed instead.
“It is clear that the prince did not come to solve the problem of the locals but to kill the bear and take home the biggest trophy to hang it on the wall,” Gabriel Paun, the president of Romanian environmental group Agent Green, said in a statement. “We are dealing with a game of poaching, since they shot the wrong bear.”
The 32-year-old prince, who lives in a palace in Austria and is sixteenth in the line of succession for Liechtenstein’s monarchy, has largely declined to comment on his March hunting trip.
“Personally, I do not want to get involved in the discussion in any way,” he told Swiss newspaper Blick in his only public response.
Lichtenstein’s royal family did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Romania’s National Environment Guard launched an investigation in April after discovering that a male bear, rather than a female bear, had been killed and that key documents were missing. Government paperwork viewed by The Associated Press indicated that the prince had “harvested” a 17-year-old brown bear after paying roughly $8,400 and obtaining a four-day hunting permit.
Conservationists have been monitoring Arthur for nine years, according to Agent Green. During that time, he remained concealed in the depths of the forest and never sought out contact with humans, the environmental group says.
Activists have questioned how an experienced hunter could have mistaken a massive male bear for a female. “The corpse’s measurements indicate that Arthur had 593 points out of 600, which is the maximum possible in the trophy hunting industry. I have never heard of such a record score before,” Paun said.
Romanian Prime Minister Florin Cîțu attempted to quell the controversy on Wednesday, telling reporters that “not all the information in the public space is correct” and “it seems that he was not the biggest bear.” But that hasn’t stopped angry Romanians from spamming the TripAdvisor page for the prince’s Austrian castle with thousands of one-star reviews that say, “Arthur, Romania.”
Environmentalists say that the incident demonstrates that Romania needs stronger protections for its bears, and that the loophole that allows people to hunt “problem bears” can too easily be abused.