It’s been a terrible week for King Juan Carlos of Spain and, more importantly, for elephants.
The 74-year-old potentate broke his hip trying to slaughter elephants on a hunt in Botswana.
News of his accident didn’t play well back home, where high unemployment and bad loans darken Spain’s economic future.
Unsurprisingly, the king soon apologized for not hanging around to render comfort to his anxious citizens and lament the rising deficit.
Astonishingly, the King is the honorary president of World Wildlife Fund Spain, a conservation group that takes a dim view of shooting animals.
The group’s secretary general, Juan Carlos del Olmo, quickly wrote to the palace to “convey WWF’s profound discomfort and concern at recent developments in Spain and the world, which has caused outrage from our partners and the general public against hunting elephants, even when it takes place in a legal and regulated environment.”
(The Botswana hunt was technically legal, if morally repulsive).
According to del Olmo, tens of thousands of people have registered their dismay on numerous platforms.
The Spanish WWF has been flooded with calls demanding that the king resign his presidency.
Some Spaniards want more than that. Tomas Gomez, the leader of Madrid Socialist Party, said the time had come for the king “to choose between his obligations of public duties, and abdication, which would allow him to enjoy a different life.”
Meanwhile the American twisted version of a royal family, the Trumps, made headlines in March when grisly photos of the sons of Donald Trump surfaced, showing the lads posing with various animals they’d extinguished on a Zimbabwe safari, including an elephant whose tail had been removed after the kill.
“I have no shame,” the Donald, Jr. said on Twitter in the aftermath (referring to the photographs).
His father told TMZ, a celebrity-gossip website, “I am not a believer in hunting, and I’m surprised they like it.”
It’s a strange day when Donald Trump is the voice of compassion.
Hunting large mammals for photo ops and souvenirs seems so atavistic today, an episode of “30 Rock” poked fun at the Alec Baldwin character by showing him next to a dead manatee, a blubbery sea creature that nobody with a beating heart would think to spear.
So should it be with elephants.
The argument is sometimes made that culling an elephant herd might be necessary because of overpopulation, or that the lucrative fee charged by safari owners is the kind of incentive that discourages poaching.
Not so, says Adam Roberts, executive vice president of conservation group Born Free USA.
“There’s no proof, none whatsoever, that the money goes into conservation or to local communities, or that the hunt reduces poaching. When people in power or in the spotlight glorify the hunt, poaching will continue,” he said on the telephone.
Few details of the king’s hunt are available, apart from that he was on a private visit in the country’s northern Okavango area.
Local officials offer concessions and quotas on wild savannah land where professional hunters take clients to hunt. It costs as much as $65,000 to shoot a wild elephant in Botswana.
The animals often die in great pain after being terrorized by the hunters, wildlife preservationists say.
Killing an elephant, particularly the dominant male in a herd, can play havoc with a population. Young males left bereft of an authority figure can run wild, hurting females or even other species, such as rhinos.
The elephant hunt brings to mind a 2006 story when a Russian official alleged the Spanish king had shot a tame bear that had been plied with honey and vodka. A palace spokesman called the allegation “ridiculous.”
Last week, just days before the Botswana debacle, the king’s grandson Felipe Juan Froilan blasted his own foot while target practicing with a shotgun.
It’s time for the king to find a different hobby and resign from the WWF.
(Mike Di Paola writes on preservation and the environment for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this column: Mike Di Paola at firstname.lastname@example.org.