Nature lovers were today mourning a giant stag feared to have been shot dead for its antlers.
The male red deer, known as the Emperor and reputedly the biggest wild animal in Britain, was reportedly killed by a trophy hunter in Exmoor, Devon.
He was apparently shot legally after the landowner was paid for the shooting rights.
Emperor was 9ft tall to the tips of his antlers and is believed to have weighed some 300lbs.
His demise comes several days after his picture was published in newspapers.
One local deer enthusiast said two shots had been heard close to the main Tiverton to Barnstaple road.
He added that a group of people were out watching stags close to the spot where Emperor was killed earlier this month.
Peter Donnelly, an Exmoor-based deer management expert, said he was angry the animal had been shot during the mating season.
He told The Times: "It could be that he didn't get a chance to rut properly this year, therefore his genes have not been passed on this time round.
"The poor things should be left alone during the rut, not harried from pillar to post. If we care about deer we should maintain a standard and stop all persecution during this important time of the year."
It is estimated Emperor's mounted head could fetch as much as £2,000 if properly stuffed.
Michael Yardley, spokesman for the Shooting Sports Trust, said deer needed to be shot for the overall benefit of the herd.
He said: "This needs to be a carefully controlled process and a proper cull plan should be made.
"The stag shot in this case is an old beast - about 12. A deer past this age may properly be shot, and, indeed, should be shot, to allow younger fitter beasts into the harem, and also because it may well die of starvation as its incisors deteriorate.
"A proportion of young and middle-aged deer need to be shot as well. Other methods of control are not fully practical."