Spain’s King Juan Carlos, 74, underwent surgery after an accident while he reportedly hunted elephants in southern Africa.
By Fiona Govan, in Madrid
He was operated on for four hours to replace his hip at a hospital in Madrid on Saturday morning, after suffering a triple fracture which the Royal Palace said was “linked to arthritis”.
The accident happened in Botswana during what the palace described as a private hunting trip.
Many Spaniards reacted with anger, with criticism of his expensive hobby at a time when his nation is mired in economic crisis with high unemployment and real suffering, especially for the young.
Adding to the embarrassment for the royal family, a few days ago on Monday his eldest grandson, Felipe Juan Froilán Marichalar y Borbón, 13, shot himself in the right foot with a shotgun during target practice at a family estate north of Madrid.
His father was questioned by police for allowing his son to use a firearm without a license, which can only be issued in Spain to those over 14 years old.
It was not the king’s first hunting controversy. In 2006 there were reports that while on holiday in Russia he had shot and killed a performing bear called Mitrofan which had first been fed honey mixed with vodka.
News of the accident broke on the day that many Spaniards marked the anniversary of the birth of the Spain’s Second Republic when on April 14 1931, the last king, Alfonso XIII went into exile.
It set off fevered controversy within Spain and brought more unwelcome scrutiny on a Royal family that traditionally has enjoyed the kind of privacy and respect that the Windsors could only dream of.
“The King, in this situation of economic distress and the dramas that affect millions of people, instead of being in his office puzzling over the fate of his country is instead hunting exotic animals and endangered species, ” said Basque politician Julia Madrazo at a rally in Bilbao to commemorate the Second Republic.
“This April 14 has given us a fine account of a day in the life of our King, full of privileges of the past.” Spain’s left-leaning daily newspaper El Pais speculated that the monarch had been on a trip to hunt elephants in Botswana, where sanctioned elephant hunting is allowed to cull herd numbers.
Andres Gutierrez Lara, president of the Spanish Federation of Hunting said it would cost between 7,000 and 20,000 euros to shoot an elephant on top of travel costs.
“It was a private trip and therefore not subject to official comment,” Juan Carlos Zamora, private secretary to the King, explained to The Sunday Telegraph, refusing to confirm whether the monarch had in fact been shooting elephants.
“As ever the media will come to their own conclusions,” he said.
The palace also declined to disclose how the trip had been funded. It comes just weeks after the monarch publicly expressed his worry over the state of Spain’s economy.
“One of the consequences of the crisis, youth unemployment, gives me sleepless nights,” he told a group of students in Barcelona in March.
It was the 4th time the king has undergone surgery since May 2010. He had surgery on his Achilles tendon last September, a knee replacement in June last year and a benign tumour removed from one of his lungs the year before.