Eccentricity of a Romanian billionaire. Hunted and stuffed elephant for USD 90,000
Ioan Niculae, Romania’s richest man and founder of InterAgro, paid USD 40,000 to hunt an elephant and then another USD 50,000 to have it stuffed and mounted, and then ship it from South Africa to Europe. According to South African newspaper Sunday Times, in its electronic edition, Niculae shot the bull elephant in February last year, in Hoedspruit, Limpopo.
“To come here and hunt an elephant you have to have deep pockets,” Dieter Ochsenbein, who runs Highveld Taxidermists outside Pretoria said. This is the first time his company has done work for Niculae.
Stuffing an elephant is a lengthy process. Skinning alone requires a front-end loader to hook onto the hide and winches to turn the pachyderm. Alive, the elephant weighed about 4.5 tons, but now weighs about half a ton. This is because the skin was shaved from about 20 mm to 2 mm, which took six people five days, and then hoisted by forklift and put on a “body” made of 47 fibreglass pieces. A scaffold was built around the animal to allow a team to paint the skin and shape the wrinkles for a lifelike effect.
The process has taken about seven months, but the order was delayed because Niculae wanted a host of other animals mounted. He also asked for a change in the pose of a scene of two lions chasing a hartebeest. A crate has to be built to house the 19 trophies, which include a buffalo, warthogs, a blesbok and skins from which items such as cushions or handbags can be made. The crate is due to be taken to Durban and loaded on a ship.
This pushes the total taxidermy cost to USD 83,096, which includes USD 2,271 to cap and mount the elephant’s tusks on a separate wooden display. The life-size mount was fitted with replica fibreglass tusks.
But the fee excludes the clearance and delivery of the crate of animals in Romania, final shipping costs to the country (which could be as much as USD 24,000), and what Niculae paid to hunt the animals.
The firm, which adjoins the infamous Vlakplaas farm, mounts about four life-size elephants a year. “We do it more as a prestige thing, because there are not many taxidermists that will do a life-size elephant,” Ochsenbein said. Last year, the taxidermist sold 60 mounted life-size lions and exported trophies worth R 28 million. Many trophies are transported to clients by air, but life-size elephant, giraffe, rhino and hippo are shipped. Most of the animals are shot in South Africa, but the firm also receives trophies from Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Ethiopia.
About 90 percent of the animals mounted by the firm are exported, mainly to the US, especially Texas, California and Florida. Its other big markets include Russia and Poland. Ochsenbein said China was another market his business was looking forward to tapping.