Saturday, October 30, 2010

Is this Emperor? Tantalising picture that suggests the great stag of Exmoor might not have been shot dead after all


A mystery solved? This picture taken by wildlife tracker Dave Webb shows the antlers of a stag (circled) concealed by a tree

Partially concealed behind a tree, surrounded by a harem of females, could this be the Emperor?

A deer hunter yesterday claimed this tantalising picture could prove that the magnificent stag at the centre of a mystery which has gripped Exmoor could actually still be alive.

The 9ft tall, 21-stone deer – believed to be Britain’s largest wild animal – has not been seen since locals reported he had been gunned down earlier this month.

News of his alleged demise provoked not only anger that such an impressive beast could be shot, but also a search for the perpetrators who had apparently spirited away the body.

But then a second theory emerged: That Emperor was not dead and that reports of his death were a ‘myth’ intended to discourage poachers from taking the biggest prize in the country at the height of the rutting season.

Last night this picture, taken near the village of Winsford in North Devon, served only to add to the puzzle.

Winsford is ten miles from Rackenford, where Emperor was last seen alive more than two weeks ago.

Wildlife tracker Dave Webb has been running deer safaris on Exmoor for five years and has seen the Emperor many times over the years.

Myth: Since Emperor's death was reported, no evidence has been produced to support the kill, leading local villagers to believe that he could still be alive

Mr Webb searched for the giant stag from dawn in the hills around Winsford yesterday and believes his efforts could have paid off in the form of this photo, taken shortly before dusk.

He said: ‘The stag in the picture could indeed be the Emperor. The space between his antlers is very similar to that of the Emperor.

‘There are a few large stags around the area at the moment and it is possible that someone shot one of those and not the Emperor.

‘The only way you would be able to confirm whether it was him or not would be to look at his antlers.

‘Unfortunately, the photograph was taken too far away to tell for sure but it could be possible. I would like to see it closer up and face on to tell if it was definitely him.’

Murder mystery: Since the death of Emperor was reported, there have been numerous reported sightings of the beast

The tentative sighting is unlikely to be the last to excite those searching for the animal.

The only facts they have is that some time around dawn on October 8 two women who have been able to observe Emperor for the best part of a year on 80 acres they own at Rackenford heard two shots – and the once much-spotted stag has not been seen since.

This weekend is expected to see record numbers out on Exmoor mounting their own searches for the elusive stag, or the sad proof that he is dead.

As far as those who live there were concerned last night, the hunt for Emperor is still on.

source: dailymail

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