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Spaniards livid over King Juan Carlos's elephant hunt


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King of Spain shoots himself in foot

King Juan Carlos under fire for enjoying an elephant hunting safari, while the nation suffers economic woes..

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In one fell swoop, King Juan Carlos of Spain has managed to unite right and left, young and old, those with jobs and those without in universal outrage over his tone-deaf African hunting safari.

As Spain foundered amid economic woes, what did the 74-year-old monarch do? He slipped away to hunt elephants in southern Africa.

Let's count the ways that miscalculation of elephantine proportions has turned into a public relations disaster:

Scandal ... King Juan Carlos.

Scandal ... King Juan Carlos. Photo: AP

- A lavish trip amid severe economic pain at home

Interest rates for Spanish bonds have risen alarmingly in recent days, with fears mounting that the country could be the next in Europe to need a bailout. Not exactly the right time to go on an exotic holiday that one major newspaper estimated could cost twice a Spanish worker's average annual wages.

Spain is also struggling with 23 per cent unemployment - the highest in the 17-nation eurozone - which soars to nearly 50 per cent for young workers. The trip makes the king's earlier comments about how he can't sleep at night thinking about the country's unemployed ring rather hollow.

"Awful. I think what the king did is awful," said Angelica Diaz, a 70-year-old homemaker pushing a baby stroller in Madrid. "Because of the lack of solidarity with people here who are going hungry. What he did is wrong. He has to show more humanity."

- A secret trip that even the government did not know about

This particular trip - it is not clear if taxpayer money was used - only became public when the king stumbled and fell before dawn on Friday at his bungalow in Botswana and fractured his right hip, forcing an emergency flight home and hip replacement surgery.

The El Mundo newspaper said the king had not told Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government of his trip abroad until after the accident.

"The prime minister must know at all times where the head of state is," El Mundo said in an editorial.

- A trip that just adds to royal family gaffes

Juan Carlos's family has been in the news lately - for all the wrong reasons. The king's son-in-law, Inaki Urdangarin, is a suspect in a corruption case, accused of using his position to embezzle several million euros in public contracts through a not-for-profit foundation he ran.

Over Easter, the king's 13-year-old grandson shot himself in the foot with a shotgun, even though by law in Spain you must be 14 to handle a gun. The boy's father could face a fine.

- A trip that even outraged longtime supporters

The conservative newspaper El Mundo ran a cartoon with two scenes: the king's crown on the ground and the word "Bang! above it" - the loud report of an elephant gun - then the pachyderm thudding to the ground and smashing the crown to bits.

The paper said the king has done a lot for Spain, especially overseeing its transition to democracy after the death of longtime dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975. But its lead editorial on Sunday read "An irresponsible trip at the worst possible time."

Juan Carlos should "admit his mistake and learn from what happened," the paper said, sounding as if it were admonishing a child.

- A trip that blasts a hole in the king's conservation credentials

The king is an honorary president of the Spanish branch of the Worldwide Fund for Nature - which could raise questions about why an alleged conservation enthusiast is killing some of the most intelligent animals on the planet.

- A trip that leaves Spain with a fill-in monarch

With his father now out on medical leave for at least a month, 44-year-old Crown Prince Felipe is filling in. No one of any real import is calling for the king to step aside, but some have taken the very rare step of urging him to apologise.

"It would not be a bad idea," Patxi Lopez, president of the Basque region, said on Monday. "In these hard times, there are things people just do not understand and this is one of them."

Javier del Rey, a professor of political communications at Complutense University in Madrid, said Spaniards are not pro-monarchy at heart. Rather, they accept the king without a lot of questions largely out of gratitude: he was key to putting down an attempted coup in 1981, just four years into Spain's fledgling democracy, by army officers nostalgic for dictator Franco's rule.

His father, widely known as Don Juan, never ruled as king. Juan Carlos's grandfather, Alfonso XIII, fled the country in 1931 after anti-monarchy parties won a local election. The king was groomed by Franco to become head of state upon the latter's death, which ended four decades of rightwing rule.

But del Rey said the king could not have shown poorer lack of judgment with his elephant-hunting trip. He does not expect the king to abdicate, although he said it would the "elegant" thing to do.

He said Felipe must be livid - both with his father and with his brother-in-law Urdangarin - for making the royal family look so bad.

"He knows that there are things which are not inherited," del Rey said. "To some extent, the monarchy is a daily plebiscite, not just an inheritance you are entitled to."


54 comments so far

  • With hereditary monarchy, you pays your money, you takes your chance; it doesn't matter what the monarch does, they are there for life.

    If you believe in hereditary monarchy, you're stuck with the incumbent until they shuffle off the mortal coil. Asking them to step aside for an indiscretion flies in the face of the entire principle of monarchy.

    Cap'n Morgan
    Date and time
    April 17, 2012, 11:47AM
    • Grotesque dishonest greedy man. It is a mark of this man's character that he gladly publicly accepted the title as honorary president for the Worldwide Fund for Nature, yet clandestinely participated in the hunting of elephants. That he did so at a time of economic woes for Spain is overshadowed by the senseless cruelty in which he participated.

      gold coast
      Date and time
      April 17, 2012, 11:54AM
      • Agree. He is a grotesque and a greedy man. It is sad to see that the papers and the people were more concerned about him taking an expensive trip during economic problems than the treatment of the elephants. The tone of blame does not focus on his killing of these beautiful animals for fun even though he pretends to be pro nature conservationist. I have never been into the Monarchy after all the crown normally goes to someone just because they are born into the family rather than because they can truly represent the voice of the nation. Unfortunately, just like with many things people forget and they return to being even more careful about keeping certain arrangements a secret. As if the prime minister had no idea that he went for a holiday. The wolf remains a wolf whether he wears sheep clothing or not.

        Date and time
        April 17, 2012, 1:39PM
      • I don't know whether this article was badly researched or the writer chose to leave it out, but elephant hunting is legal and regulated in Botswana to control the elephant population. It's necessary to keep some parts of the population safe. The fact that he went on this trip though while his country is suffering through an economic crisis is ridiculous though, can't expect much more from a royal though.

        Date and time
        April 17, 2012, 2:15PM
    • Are we indignant because this elderly hypocrite with too much power went hunting animals endangered in many parts of the continent (I'm not sure how they're going in Botswana) or because he went on holiday during a recession? I opened the article expecting the former but found more of the latter.

      Date and time
      April 17, 2012, 12:09PM
      • It's all of it! Why should there a be a limit to one or the other of the outrages. Goes to show just how well-rounded this relic of distaste is.

        the shop
        Date and time
        April 17, 2012, 12:57PM
      • Probably more of the latter. Elephant hunting is legitimate in Botswana and the trophy fees (usually in the 10's of $k) go towards funding conservation programs. Sometimes foreigners can pay a cheaper rate, still around $25k, to shoot elephants under a management scheme rather than for a trophy hunt.

        Date and time
        April 17, 2012, 3:05PM
      • And not only that Belal, but the WWF has a long track record of support for such hunting, because it makes a positive contribution to conservation, by bringing considerable value to the elephants and their habitat. They become a managed and valuable resource for the people who live with them, rather than a pest to be culled, or poached - their fate all too often in countries where hunting has been banned.

        Date and time
        April 17, 2012, 5:47PM
      • Belal is right; it is much more of the latter. The King here has for a long time had the respect of most of the population of Spain for his role in the transition of Spain from a dictatorship to democracy. In brief, Franco appointed the King as his heir but following his death Juan Carlos chose to hand over power and help establish parliament.

        How things have changed in the last years! His statement that he couldn't sleep at night when thinking of the unemployed shows the level of hypocricy running through the royal family these days. Add to that the kow-towing and unquestionable loyalty from Rajoy's conservative government (who are pushing through some of the toughest austerity measures in Europe) and no wonder the man on the street is angry and even El Mundo criticises the crown (The cartoon was particularly funny).

        As for the former, while elephant hunting in Botswana is legal, the King of Spain is honorary president of WWF Spain. ¿Adds fuel to the fire, no?

        Date and time
        April 17, 2012, 5:52PM
      • Actually the problem in Botswana is too many elephants, not too few, and a population rising too fast - well beyond the carrying capacity of the land. Among other things, the excessive numbers lead to habitat destruction due, among other things, to the elephants habit of uprooting acacia trees to feed, thereby clearing bush. They also pose a threat to other species including rhinos, as well as humans.

        Trophy hunting was reintroduced in Botswana in 1996 as part of a strategy to manage elephant populations in balance with the environment, with the funding going (among other things) to preservation of habitat.

        Date and time
        April 17, 2012, 6:04PM

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