Spanish police were on Tuesday investigating the decapitation of a European bison and the disappearance of three others from a nature reserve which was set to start a breeding programme for the species.
The headless body of Sauron, the 660-kilo (1,455-pound) dominant male of a small herd, was found Friday at the private Valdeserillas reserve in the eastern region of Valencia, reserve spokesman Rodolfo Navarro told AFP.
The animal may have been decapitated by hunters that wanted its head as “a trophy,” he said.
Sauron, named after the Lord of The Rings character, had his head missing and Mr. Navarro said the animal had been “the biggest and most powerful” of the herd and had become a “sort of symbol of the reserve.”
El Pais reported that investigators had not found any bullets or cartridges at the scene.
They quoted the Civil Guard’s nature protection group – Seprona – as saying there had been at least two people involved and they used an axe.
Mr Navarro agreed, adding:
It must have been a gang because one person couldn’t commit this kind of brutality on their own.”
Sauron appeared to have been decapitated with an axe, the central government’s representative in Valencia said.
Three others from the eight-strong herd are missing and could be sick or frightened, Navarro said.
Staff were searching the 330-hectare (815-acre) reserve for the missing animals including in areas that can only be reached by foot, he added.
The rest of the herd were sick earlier this month, possibly due to poisoning, Navarro said.
The owners of the reserve plan to introduce female bison to the site later this year to allow the herd to reproduce.
The European bison, the continent’s largest wild land mammal, once roamed across most of the continent but it was severely hunted until it finally became extinct in the wild in 1927, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
The animal has been reintroduced into the wild across Europe over the past few decades and the species’ global population now stands at around 5,500, according to the environmental organization.
Mr Navarro said the 12 bison were brought to Spain from the Netherlands, Ireland and the UK after years of planning.
“It was like a murder,” he told The Guardian of the attack. “It’s just senseless and it has really damaged not only our image and Valencia’s, but also Spain’s.”
The European bison were hunted to extinction in the wild, with the last of the animals shot in Poland in the 1920s, but they have been reintroduced across Europe from captivity.