A stag dubbed ‘The Emperor’ after being identified as the largest wild animal in Britain has been shot dead on Exmoor by sportsmen, it emerged yesterday.
The mighty creature – which weighed around 300lbs – was thought to have been hunted as a “trophy” with its head worth thousands of pounds.
Its shooting has enraged has enraged deer experts and wildlife fans who believe wild red stags should be protected during the mating season.
The 12-year-old stag was killed in the middle of the annual rut close to a busy main road in Exmoor, Devon.
Local deer expert Peter Donnelly slammed the shooting as a ”disgrace” and called for the animals to be protected.
He said: ”It’s a disgrace that this magnificent animal has been shot at this time because it could be that he didn’t get to rut properly this year – therefore his genes have not been passed on this time round.
”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.
”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.”
Red deer stags are the biggest indigenous land animal left in Britain and those in Exmoor are larger than the ones in Scotland because of their diet.
The Emperor stood at 9ft tall from the ground to the top of his antlers and attracted many animal lovers who came to the area hoping to catch a glimpse of him.
One deer enthusiast, who did not want to be named, said he heard two gunshots when he went to see the stag last month.
He said: ”It angers me that rich sportsmen from other parts of the country and abroad are coming to shoot Exmoor’s best stags as trophies.
”I don’t know if The Emperor was shot as a trophy head, but it is concerning because the best blood stock could disappear.”
Stags are sometimes culled in their old age because they find it hard it hard to survive in a healthy state.
But Mr Donnelly explained that The Emperor was nowhere near that stage when he was shot.
He added: ”It is kindest to kill them in older age because a deer’s incisors get worn down and they can’t eat properly.
”They can only hoover up food and that won’t be good enough so they are going to die a slow death or starvation in the winter – there are no longer natural predators around to kill them quickly. The Emperor was definitely not at that stage yet.”