Prague, 27 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Romania's Agriculture Ministry has launched an investigation into what local and international media are calling "true carnage" -- a hunting excursion that ended with the death of some 185 wild boar.
The hunt was organized by tennis-player-turned-businessman Ion Tiriac, a former head of Romania's Olympic Committee and one of the country's richest men.
Tiriac holds the lease to the Balc hunting grounds in northwest Romania, where the weekend gathering took place. With him were some 30 guests who included former Prime Minister and current parliament speaker Adrian Nastase.
Western business executives were also on hand for the hunt -- men like Wolfgang Porsche, Klaus Mangold of DaimlerChrysler and food industry mogul Julius Meinl.
Tiriac's lawyers have argued the boar were brought from the local breeding facility and are not a protected species. But the magnitude of the hunt and the involvement of so many top-level executives and politicians have stirred a wave of protests from the media and environmentalists.
"For each species and each hunting ground, a hunting quota was set," said Lazlo Szabo-Szeley, who heads the AVES Foundation for Wildlife Conservation in Romania. "So we can't say that a person can shoot as many wild boar as he wants just because it's not a protected species and because the grounds are private."
Authorities say the 185 boars killed in the hunt exceeded by six times the permitted quota in the area. The region's population of wild boar is estimated at 550.
Tiriac -- a former coach to German tennis great Boris Becker -- is believed to have amassed his enormous fortune thanks in part to his close ties with Romania's former communist elite.
He was reported as saying the hunt was a key opportunity to attract foreign investors to Romania.
Nastase, who reportedly registered the largest total with 23 boars killed, said himself the hunt was "remarkable."
But Szabo-Szeley questioned both the usefulness and the sportsmanship of the hunt, which was said to have taken place after the animals were gathered in a contained area.
"Please tell me what Romania stands to gain from this," Szabo-Szeley said. "The only person who stands to gain from this hunt is Ion Tiriac."
The international World Wildlife Fund (WWF) environmental group has also criticized the size of the hunt.
Authorities say the 185 boars killed in the hunt exceeded by six times the permitted quota in the area.
"We know that such so-called 'hunting farms' also exist in other European countries, but generally nobody kills such a large number of animals," said Luminita Tanase, a spokeswoman for WWF's Danube-Carpathian program in Romania. "It is a problem of ethics, which implies a certain behavior toward the game -- a hunter's ethic code."
Tanase also called illegal an order by former Agriculture Minister Ilie Sarbu -- who also participated in the weekend hunt -- exempting private grounds from national protection laws.
Sarbu has also come under criticism for granting a 49-year lease to the grounds to Tiriac without a public auction. The handover took place shortly before Nastase's ex-Communist government was voted out of power in December.
The new agriculture minister, Gheorghe Flutur, yesterday ordered an inquiry following media reports about the hunt. His spokesman, Adrian Tibu, described the aim of the investigation.
"Regarding this hunt, Agriculture Minister Gheorghe Flutur ordered three measures," Tibu said. "The first is verifying the legality of the contract under which the Balc hunting ground was leased. The second involves checking the way the game animals are being managed there. And the third is checking the stage of the investment program agreed in the contract [with Tiriac]."
Romanian Environment Minister Sulfina Barbu said that her ministry was not asked to issue a special hunting permit because boar are not a protected species.
But all the same, Barbu told RFE/RL, the hunt violated both environmental and ethical principles.
"We consider that the principles of sustainable development were violated. Such a resource must be exploited in a sustainable manner," Barbu said. "The Agriculture Ministry inquiry will probably offer us some clarification of the behavior. It is not ethical to act like this. Hunting is a sport, and must not turn into something else." Unbearable
Romania still has the largest populations of wild animals outside Russia -- particularly of bears, which are said to exceed 6,000.
A protected species, bears can be hunted only in limited numbers and with special permission. Wealthy foreigners, including royalty, pay many thousands of dollars for the privilege to hunt Romanian bears.
But environmentalists say the number of bears and other animals has been artificially inflated in order to boost hunting profits.
Spain's King Juan Carlos angered activists for shooting nine bears -- including a pregnant female -- during an October hunting trip in central Romania.
Hunting has become increasingly popular among not only rich foreigners but Romania's nouveau riche and political elite, many of whom are former communists trying to emulate Nicolae Ceausescu. The late dictator still arguably holds the record for bears killed -- some 4,000.
In Romania, like in many other ex-communist countries, hunting has long been associated with the old nomenklatura. Ceausescu, who liked to be called the Genius of the Carpathians, would often hunt bears, wild boars, or black goats in the mountains, alone or accompanied by other communist leaders such as Yugoslavia's Josip Broz Tito or Bulgarian President Todor Zhivkov.
But Szabo-Szeley says Ceausescu's hunting sprees were nothing compared to the excesses of the country's new elites.
"Ceausescu was a tame lamb compared to this neocommunist elite that is now in power," Szabo-Szeley said. "During a hunting session for Ceausescu, a maximum of 30-40 boars were shot -- all pre-selected, larger animals. During this hunt -- or rather, this genocide -- organized by Tiriac, they shot every animal within striking distance: pregnant females, smaller animals, all of them."
Szabo-Szeley has written letters of complaint to Romania's centrist government and to new President Traian Basescu. He said he is prepared to take his case next to the European Union and Council of Europe. Anything, he said, to stop what he sees as the systematic extermination of Romania's wildlife.