The Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) is investigating a man with a private collection of 1,090 taxidermy animals, including about 400 protected species, housed in large warehouses near Bétera, a small town north of Valencia.
The collection includes the scimitar oryx, also called the North African oryx, which the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared extinct in the wild, the endangered Bengal tiger and the critically endangered addax, also known as the white antelope. They found specimens of cheetah, leopard, lion, lynx, polar bear, snow leopard and white rhinoceros. The man also had crocodile skin chairs, stools made of elephant feet and 198 ivory elephant tusks.
It is the largest discovery of protected stuffed specimens in Spain and one of the largest in Europe, writes Gizmodo’s Passant Rabie. The collection is worth about 29 million euros ($31.5 million), per a statement from the Civil Guard.
More than 400 of the animals are on CITES lists. CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments to “ensure that international trade in plants and animals does not threaten their survival in the wild.” The treaty was formed in the 1970s after governments recognized that wildlife trade was pushing species toward extinction, and they had no way of regulating the industry across borders. Today, more than 37,000 species of animals and plants have varying degrees of protection under CITES, per the organization.
Lieutenant Carlos Domínguez, head of the Nature Protection Service (Seprona) of the Valencia Civil Guard, tells Las Provincias’ Javier Martínez that they were surprised to see such a vast collection of taxidermy animals.
"It was amazing,” he says, adding that it “far exceeded our expectations.”
Law enforcement began the investigation in November 2021, when they became aware of a possible private collection of specimens in Bétera. The owner has not yet been arrested but could be charged with trafficking and other crimes against the environment, per the Associated Press.
The Guardia Civil will now look into whether documents from the owner—a well-known businessman in Valencia—exist to justify possession of the animals, per NPR’s Rina Torchinsky. The man claims most of the taxidermy animals came from his father, per Las Provincias.
Authorities are also looking into whether the collection could go to natural science museums in Spain or nonprofits for research after the investigation, Gizmodo reports.