On the Cordoba-Extremadura border, a businessman is to be tried for charging 30,000 euros to allow hunters the chance to shoot lions, tigers and even perhaps lynxes
Olive Press Exclusive by Jon Clarke
It is a pitiful sight . . . the lifeless body of one of the world’s most endangered species laid out on a metal grill ready to be taken home as a trophy.
But this is no poaching scene out of Africa. The tiger is one of scores of exotic species shot dead by “big game hunters,” who paid 30,000 euros for the twisted privilege of shooting “wild animals” in Spain.
The tiger – of which there are only 5,000 left in the wild – was riddled with bullets, a dozen at least, according to police reports. An ageing male, weighing nearly 200 kilos, he was sprawled on his side, his glorious pelt smeared with blood.
Nearby, in separate cages, stood the next day’s prey. Petrified and in an appalling condition, both cold and bedraggled, were four more tigers and a lion, with only one eye. Unable to move and with the only form of sustenance; the rancid remains of another dead tiger strewn out on the cage floor in front of them, they could hardly be called fair game.
But this is exactly what they had become, it can be revealed, when police swooped to save them in December 2005.
Breaking up a network of illegal safaris, and arresting seven people in the process, it emerged that these protected species – along with wolves and even, it is alleged, lynxes – were being offered to shoot in Spain.
Located at a remote estate on the Cordoba/Extremadura border – close to where British royals Prince William and Harry have hunted – dozens of Spanish, Italian and even English hunters paid up to 30,000 euros for the thrill.
“It is one of the most barbaric examples of hunting abuses seen in Europe for decades,” wildlife investigator Francisco Vazquez told the Olive Press. “These animals could hardly move having been cooped up in cages for days and would be easy to kill.
“Having been kept in captivity for most of their lives, they would have no idea what to do, less to hide, particularly in an area completely unknown to them. This was a cold, callous example of cruelty and I hope those responsible are heavily punished.”
Now, estate owner Manuel Dominguez, 42, is facing three years in prison at the trial which is due to begin at San Benito district court in the Autumn. Fellow hunt organisers and three hunters – including a married couple from Fuenlabrada, Madrid – face two years.
The case centres around a series of illegal hunts organised at the 80-hectare estate Finca Los Lunares, near Monterrubio de la Serena, 20 kilometres from Penarroyo Pueblonuevo in the north of Córdoba.
According to the prosecution, under the company name Sierra del Oro, hunters were offered the trophies without the need of dangerous and lengthy trips to Africa and the necessary inoculations against yellow fever and malaria.
Paying up to 30,000 euros to hunt the big cats – which includes the pelt and head – hunters were taken to the remote estate in the province of Badajoz.
Mostly ageing or disabled animals they were shipped to the farm from across Spain during the night and became easy prey.
The prosecution alleges that at the end of November 2005 five tigers and one lion, were imported by Dominguez from Zoo Safari Park in Hinojosa de San Vicente, near Toledo.
Brought in a rented van in the middle of the night, it was exactly a week later on December 3 that the first of a series of hunts was organised for the three hunters arrested.
The first animal shot was a male tiger and the trio of hunters was about to start hunting the only lion, when police swooped to discover them posing over the trophy for photographs.
The prosecution alleges that between January and March 2005 at least 12 wolves – seven from Germany, and five from Holland – were imported to be hunted.
Investigators found three carcasses of the wolves were discovered at the estate, according to police. The wolf is an animal in danger of extinction and has international protection.
So far, police have managed to track down over 20 hunters who took part in the illegal hunts at Los Lunares. Most have been ordered to declare in the trial.
The Olive Press has discovered that despite the forthcoming trial, Sierra de Oro is still trading and being run from its small office in Monterrubio de la Serena.
On its website there is no mention of lions or tigers, but it is offering the hunting of boar, mountain goat and ducks from 596 euros a day per person.
It is also organising expeditions to Hungary and Yugoslavia and even – according to its website – to hunt the endangered species of puma and black antelope in Argentina for $1400 per person.
Ironically, its boss Dominguez – whose mother runs a grocery shop in the town – was the son of a forestry ranger, who had dedicated his life to the conservation of the area’s celebrated wildlife.
Breaking the law on many fronts, Martin is also being prosecuted with the hunting and transportation of protected species, as well as endangering the lives of his local villagers.
“We have no doubt that these animals could have been lethal to the public,” said police chief Esteban Buitron, who co-ordinated the investigation. “If one had escaped it could have caused mayhem.
“To bring such pitiful animals to this estate and then to make, we suppose, a large quantity of money from killing them, is highly illegal.”
According to a police source involved in the raid, the estate was a little shop of horrors, with dozens of photographs of previous kills lining the offices and a private house on the grounds. The pelts and heads of various kills were hung on the walls and there were various cages of other live animals.
The Olive Press was unable to speak to Martin last week. It was left to his mother, Mercedes Martin, to field any questions on the case. Speaking from a stationary store she runs a few doors down, she claimed the whole thing was “an invention” and the animals were planted on the estate.
“It is my farm and the only thing hunted there is birds, take my word for it,” she said. “It is all a load of made up rubbish and connected to politics. Those animals were planted there and were not killed. My son runs a legitimate business. The case will come to nothing and nobody is going to prison. We are not at all worried.”