Environmental activists say a Liechtenstein nobleman has killed Romania's largest bear for a 7,000 euro ($8,400) fee in what they say amounted to poaching.
Arthur, a 17-year-old male brown bear, was killed in Romania's central Covasna County last month by Prince Emanuel von und zu Liechtenstein, Romania's Agent Green nongovernmental organization said in a statement on May 5.
Agent Green chief Gabriel Paun said the 32-year-old prince, who lives in Austria, shot Arthur after the Environment Ministry gave special approval for the shooting of a female bear with cubs following a farmer's complaint that the animal had caused extended and repeated damage to crops in the area.*
There was no immediate comment from Prince Emanuel.
Environment Minister Barna Tancos announced an investigation into the incident.
"Complaints and requests [to shoot troublesome bears] come almost daily from several areas," Tancos said, calling the case "extremely complicated."
Romania has arguably the largest brown-bear population in the European Union, and bear hunting is banned unless the animals pose a direct threat to farmers and their livestock.
"Measurements of the body showed that Arthur was worth 593 points out of a total of 600, which is the maximum score in trophy hunting," according to Paun.
"I wonder how the prince could mistake a small female with cubs that usually ventures into villages with the largest male that lived deep in the forest."
The activist said that it was "obvious" that the hunter did not travel to Romania to solve the villagers' problem but to get a much-coveted trophy, adding, "This amounts to bear poaching."
Ann-Kathrin Freude, a campaigner for the Austrian environmental NGO VGT, called the killing of the bear "a shame for Austria."
"It cannot be that influential Austrians can hunt protected animals in other countries for a lot of money!" she said in a statement.
The official number of brown bears in Romania is over 6,000. But the government is not actually sure of the number, and environmental groups argue that it might be as low as 2,000. Hunting associations say the number could be as high as 10,000.
In 2016, Romania banned the trophy hunting of large carnivores, such as bears and wolves. But under successive governments, exceptions have been granted for the sake of controlling the population. According to estimates, almost 1,400 bears have been killed by hunters to date, who are said to be willing to pay $15,000 for a trophy.
Tancos, who took over the ministry late last year, has advocated relaxing the ban on bear hunting, arguing that the large number of bears poses a growing threat to humans.
But critics have said that granting official approvals for bear hunting is a profitable business, and blamed the bears' incursions into the human habitat on the intensive logging -- both legal and illegal -- that has resulted in the substantial shrinking of Romania's forests.