King of Spain's unprecedented apology for elephant hunting amid abdication calls
THE King of Spain has apologised for making an elephant hunting trip to Africa following widespread criticism of his holiday choice while his country struggles with a recession.
In an unprecedented public gesture the 74-year old monarch said: "I'm very sorry. I made a mistake. It won't happen again."
King Juan Carlos made the apology on Wednesday as he was discharged from a Madrid hospital following surgery on his right hip which he fractured in three places in a fall at the safari camp in Botswana last Friday.
News of the safari trip provoked a barrage of criticism over the extravagant lifestyle of the King at a time when Spaniards are suffering harsh austerity measures.
It came just weeks after the King told a group of students that Spain's youth unemployment was giving him "sleepless nights" and led to calls from some left wing leaders for him to abdicate.
It also provoked a fury from animal rights campaigners who slammed the monarch's decision to hunt an endangered species. Demonstrators had gathered outside the hospital where King Juan Carlos was being treated to protest.
The Spanish branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on Tuesday said it would seek to remove King Juan Carlos as its honorary president, a position he has held since 1968, in light of his recent hunting expedition to Botswana, one of the few places that issue licenses to cull elephant herd numbers.
Pictures of the King posing in front of an elephant shot on a similar trip to Botswana in 2006 were published across the world as an online petition calling for the King to be removed as patron collected more than 80,000 signatures.
Juan Carlos del Olmo, the secretary general of WWF Espana, said the king's position as patron had become untenable. "It's a problem of the image it sends nationally and internationally rather than the issue of elephant conservation in Botswana."
The move is embarrassing not the least because Queen Sofia of Spain is the first cousin once removed of The Duke of Edinburgh, who is the President Emeritus of WWF International and has been closely involved with the organisation since its foundation in 1961.
The Royal Palace has repeatedly declined to comment on the trip except to say it was a "private visit" but newspaper reports on Wednesday revealed he had been the guest of Mohamed Eyad Kayali, a Syrian-born Saudi business man.
Mr Kayali, reportedly the right hand man of Prince Salman, Saudi's defence minister, was said to be a key figure in securing a lucrative contract for a Spanish consortium to build a high-speed rail link between Mecca and Medina worth €6.7bn.