SOMERSET, UNITED KINGDOM – Though the Emperor of Exmoor, the largest red stag deer in the UK, was thought dead, some claim they’ve seen the deer since his supposed death. Farmers in the area say a “death myth” was created about the stag to discourage trophy hunters from trying to find him.  If that’s the case, let the story – and the stag – live on.  Mum’s the word with hunters. – Global Animal

BY: This is Somerset

Rumors are rife that the magnificent beast now known around the world as the Exmoor Emperor is actually alive.

This week, a mysterious source claimed to have seen the famous red stag slain in a field on the hills where he often made an appearance at this time of year.

However in the latest in a series of twists in the tale is that many local farmers and landowners believe the Emperor may be alive.

It also emerged yesterday that his father, Bruno, also a mighty beast, was shot dead 12 years ago to the day in similar circumstances.

The story has made national and international headlines, with West photographer Richard Austin being interviewed by the world and his wife. Mr Austin snapped the 300lb stag, which had a £1,000 price tag, when he made his first appearance this year.

The tale has captured the imagination of national and international newspapers.

However, little did anyone realise that the story was about to take another twist and the question is now being asked – will the Emperor strike back?

Since the apparent death two weeks ago, it has been presumed the creature – thought to be the biggest wild animal in Britain – was gunned down by marksmen seeking the large cash sum for his prized head and antlers.

But since reports of his apparent killing in Rackenford, north Devon, no one has come forward to claim the kill or produce hard evidence of it.

There are no known photographs of the beast’s body and landowners in the area have denied they sanctioned the killing.

Now farmers on Exmoor claim talk of the Emperor’s demise is a “myth” which was invented to protect the animal from rogue hunters.

Lesley Prior, 54, a farmer in nearby Oakford, said yesterday: “The animal has been seen regularly after the time he was supposedly shot near Rackenford. I live less than three miles from where this beast was supposedly shot two weeks ago.

“My builder, who lives five miles away on Exmoor, was telling me a few days ago that the stag had been in his garden last week.

“Most locals are fiercely protective of this stag, knowing him very well and alerting all to any perceived threat from poachers.

“This includes members of the local stag hunt who have a considerable respect for this elderly male and were not keen to see him end up as a trophy on someone’s wall. I won’t believe he is dead until I see actual evidence of it.”

Locals also claim a large stag – purportedly the Emperor – has been spotted nearby, with rumours rife around Winsford, a scenic village just a few miles from Rackenford.

A villager in Winsford, who did not want to be named, said: “There has been a lot of talk in the village about a large stag spotted in the hills here.

“Some people have claimed it is the Emperor.”