AYENT, Switzerland (AP) _ A Swiss hunter was holed up in his Alpine village home after shooting one of the country's few bearded vultures, a protected species reintroduced to the Alps in 1986.

``It's a catastrophe for our image,'' councilman Martial Aymon told the Zurich weekly SonntagsZeitung on Sunday. He said the 69-year-old ``Marc B.'' doesn't dare leave his home, fearing he will be hounded by reporters who have flocked to this village.

Marc B. shot down the only bearded vulture in the rural Valais canton almost two weeks ago. The four-year-old female was named ``Republic 5'' after her sponsor, the Republic National Bank of New York.

There are only four or five bearded vultures in Switzerland. In April, following years of efforts by an international project to re-establish the eagle-like bird in a natural habitat, the first bearded vulture chick in almost a century was born in the wild.

The cost of rearing one of the birds and reintroducing it to the wild is estimated at some $172,000, the SonntagsZeitung report said.

The Swiss daily Le Matin says Marc B., if convicted, faces a year in prison and a $27,600 fine, plus possible further claims for damages.

The hunter's case isn't helped by the fact that he left the scene without informing the police. He and an assistant gamekeeper were taken into police custody a day after the shooting and freed after questioning.

Workers on a nearby cable railway had heard the shot, discovered the dying bird and gave descriptions of men to authorities.

Marc B. claims he and three friends were hunting for hares and that he shot the bird on instinct when he heard a noise behind him.

While investigations continue, ``Republic 5'' has been stuffed and local hunters want to start a collection for the reintroduction of two bearded vultures to the region.