MADRID (AP) — Spain's King Juan Carlos has successfully undergone hip replacement surgery after tripping on stairs and fracturing bones around the joint while on an elephant hunting trip in Botswana, officials said Saturday. It was the monarch's fourth surgery in almost two years.
Botswana government spokesman Jeff Ramsay told The Associated Press that the 74-year-old was on a private visit up north in the Okavango area when he had the accident. "He was hunting for elephant. He has a permit," the spokesman said.
The fall occurred early Friday morning in the chalet where the head of state was staying, said Angel Villamor, spokesman for San Jose hospital in Madrid where the king had his operation.
Juan Carlos flew back and was driven straight to hospital after landing, a royal palace spokesman said. The palace also released a statement saying the king had sustained "a fracture in three fragments of the right hip, associated with osteoarthritis of that joint."
Spanish state broadcaster RTVE carried the news on its website accompanied by a photograph of the king, rifle in hand, standing next to a dead elephant while on a previous hunting trip with a Botswana-based safari company.
The latest incident drew criticism from some lawmakers at a time when Spain is on the verge of recession with close to 23 percent unemployment.
"It can't be said the head of state is losing sleep over the many thousands of young people who are unemployed," said Cayo Lara of the United Left party.
The surgery was the king's fourth since May 2010. Previously, a benign tumor has been removed from one of his lungs, in June last year he also underwent surgery on his right knee and then in September he had an operation to repair Achilles tendon damage.
This is not the first time the aging monarch's love of hunting has caused concern. In October 2006, a Russian governor launched an inquiry into reports that Juan Carlos had shot and killed a bear while on holiday near Moscow.
Vyacheslav Pozgalyov, governor of the Vologda region northeast of Moscow, had reportedly received a letter from the region's deputy hunting chief, Sergei Starostin, claiming a bear — named Mitrofan — had been fed honey mixed with vodka before being released near a site where the king was to hunt.
Starostin wrote that the local authorities had thus turned the king's hunting trip into a "disgusting fraud," Russia's top business daily Kommersant said.
Mitrofan, whom Starostin described as "a good-natured and joyful bear," was taken from his home at a local holiday resort and brought to the hunting place where they "generously fed him with vodka mixed with honey and pushed him into a field," the newspaper quoted the letter as saying.
The Spanish royal family has enjoyed hunting with firearms for decades, but has also experienced its share of gun-related tragedies.
The king's 13-year-old grandson, Felipe Juan Froilan, is currently recovering in a hospital after shooting himself in the foot accidentally with a shotgun.
The most serious shooting incident occurred in 1956 when Juan Carlos accidentally shot and killed his 14-year-old brother while handling a gun during a vacation visit to Estoril, Portugal.
The royal family has been the focus of much media attention in recent months on account of a judicial probe into whether Princess Cristina's husband, Inaki Urdangarin, used his privileged position to secure lucrative deals for a nonprofit foundation he ran, then fraudulently diverted some of the money for personal benefit.
Associated Press writer Sello Motseta in Gaborone, Botswana, contributed to this report.