Spain's King Juan Carlos waves beside Queen Sofia
Spain's King Juan Carlos waves beside Queen Sofia Reuters

Spain’s King Juan Carlos is facing an onslaught of criticism -- including calls for his abdication -- following an elephant-hunting expedition in the southern African nation of Botswana.

The king, who is currently in a Madrid hospital after injuring his hip during the safari, has earned the ire of animal rights activists as well as left-wing politicians who assert that Spanish taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for such self-indulgent trips, especially during a period of such economic stress in the country.

The head of state must choose between his obligations and the duty of service of his public responsibilities, or an abdication that would allow him to enjoy a different kind of life, Tomas Gomez, a prominent member of the opposition Socialist party, told reporters Sunday.

Even the conservative-minded El Mundo newspaper published an editorial denouncing the hunting adventure as an irresponsible journey at an inopportune time.

The sight of a monarch hunting elephants in Africa when the economic crisis in our country is causing so many problems for Spaniards does not set a good example, the paper said.

According to reports, while Spanish government ministers suffered a 16 percent budget cut across the board this year, the royal household saw its budget reduced by only 2 percent.

Some politicians have called more transparency in the royal family’s accounts and expenditures.

The United Left party suggested Spain might seek to abolish the monarchy and become a republic again – and may try to propose such a measure in a referendum.

It shows a complete lack of ethics and respect toward the people of Spain who are suffering a lot, said spokeman Cayo Lara Moya.

Environmentalists and animal rights activists are also calling for the king to quit as president of Spain’s branch of the World Wildlife Fund.

Former French movie star and animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot sent an open letter to the king, condemning the hunt as indecent, revolting and unworthy of a person of your rank.

Officials of the ruling conservative Popular Party have defended the king.

PP Secretary General Maria Dolores de Cospedal said in a statement: To use one particular event to cast doubt on institutions does no favors to Spanish democracy or to our form of state and government.”

Juan Carlos, 74, acceded to the throne in November 1975 on the death of longtime fascist dictator Francisco Franco, and was crucial to the country’s transition into a democratic state.