Friday, 29 October 2010

Emperor of Exmoor: reports of his demise may be exaggerated, say locals

The reported demise of the Emperor of Exmoor, the celebrated red stag which graced the Devon countryside for more than a decade, came with several mysteries attached, not least who shot Britain's largest land wild animal, where they did it and what happened to the body.

Now has come another twist: the Emperor might not be dead after all.

Some locals, witnessing the continued failure of dozens of reporters and TV crews to pin down details of the demise of the 2.75-metre (9ft), 135kg (300lb) beast, much less the whereabouts of his carcass, are taking a sceptical eye to the saga.

They have questioned the reported location of the shooting by an unnamed but licensed hunter, given variously as close to the A361 Tiverton to Barnstaple road or, more specifically, near the village of Rackenford.

Several have said the stag was never seen there but instead spent its time a good 10 miles further north, inside Exmoor national park.

"I smell a rat," said one farm owner who, with several other locals, has grown tired of the media interest and asked not to be named. "Without evidence anyone can say they shot anything. I could say I shot an elephant, and who's going to say no? There's someone I've spoken to who lives up on Exmoor who's certain he's still around."

She added: "As far as I know he's never been seen in this area. He tends to be seen in the Winsford area, that's where people look out for him, and stalkers look out for him too. Because he's such an icon they don't want him killed, more than anybody else."

Responding to reports that an eyewitness saw the Emperor's head being loaded into a vehicle, she said: "If he was the Emperor, you can't load a set of antlers that size into a normal car.

"And what would you do with the body? Believe you me, if he was as big as they say he is supposed to be, it would take about six men to lift him. They wouldn't have needed a car, they wouldn't even have needed a pick-up, they would have needed a truck."

Complicating matters is the fact that while the Emperor was Exmoor's undisputed behemoth, the area hosts several other giant stags which to the untutored eye look quite similar, said Clare O'Connor, a press officer at the Exmoor national park authority.

She confirmed that the Emperor was generally seen within the bounds of the park rather than where he reportedly met his end, but admitted Exmoor authorities were also in the dark. "It's possible that someone shot him and was put off by the media attention. But it's possible that it was another stag. Personally, I'd like to think he's still with us."

Adam Gabbatt and Peter Walker

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