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Fiscally-distressed country's king goes elephant hunting

April 18, 2012: 11:44 AM ET

What do you get a king whose country has 23% unemployment, rapidly rising bond yields and mounting sovereign debt problems?

A secret, luxurious, elephant hunting trip to Botswana, of course.

At least that's how Spain's 74-year old King Juan Carlos was busying himself last week before falling and hurting his leg, an injury that required his royal highness to be rushed back to Madrid for replacement surgery on his right hip.

The move, which makes the king an early front-runner for this year's most tone-deaf leader prize, comes as Spain is racked by 50% youth unemployment, a contracting economy,  government-applied austerity cuts and tax increases to make up for budget shortfalls.

The king himself had  -- naturally -- previously expressed his concern over the impact of the crisis on Spaniards and called on the nation to come together to get through the tough times.

To his credit, the monarch did apologize. "I am very sorry. I made a mistake and it won't happen again," he said upon leaving the hospital.

It was not immediately clear how much money the trip cost. The royal household has a budget of 8.26 million euros ($10.8 million) this year, 2% less than last year, and had recently announced cuts of about $222,000, including trimming salaries of the highest-paid staffers at the royal palace.

Spaniards were not pleased by the king's African adventure.

"That's a lot of money!" Roy Alexander Bouzas told the Los Angeles Times. "The king has even been one to remind us that all the people in Spain need to make efforts and sacrifices [in the economic crisis], and he doesn't do anything."

The king was also drawing fire from conservationists. Elephants are a protected species in most countries, but can be legally hunted in Botswana with a permit.

It's likely that his majesty, who serves as the honorary president of the Spanish branch of the World Wildlife Fund, knew this.

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About This Author
Charles Riley
Charles Riley
Reporter, CNNMoney

Charles Riley lives and works in Hong Kong, where he covers markets, economics and other high-impact stories across Asia. He previously worked for CNNMoney in New York and CNN in Washington. He tweets @CRrileyCNN

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