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Tue May 31 20:03:42 SAST 2016

SA elephant shot, stuffed and shipped to Romanian billionaire (video)

Leigh-Anne Hunter | 22 November, 2014 23:30
Dieter Ochsenbein with an African Elephant shot by a Romanian Billionaire that is to be shipped out of the country. Highveld Taxidermists, Vlakplaats. November 13, 2014.

You know you're wealthy when you fly to South Africa in your own Boeing 737, pay $40000 to shoot an elephant, spend $50000 to have it stuffed and mounted, and then ship it to Europe.

This is exactly what a Romanian billionaire has done.

Ioan Niculae, Romania's richest man, who founded agricultural firm InterAgro, is reportedly a hunting fanatic.

He shot the bull elephant in February last year, in Hoedspruit, Limpopo.

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 20mm to 2mm, 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 $83096, which includes $2271 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 that country (which could be as much as $24000, or about R266000), and what Niculae paid to hunt the animals.

Dieter Ochsenbein, who runs Highveld Taxidermists outside Pretoria, which mounted the trophies, estimates it cost about $40000 alone to shoot the elephant.

"To come here and hunt an elephant you have to have deep pockets," he said.

This is the first time his company has done work for Niculae.

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.

elephant stuffed 2.jpg 

Last year, the taxidermist sold 60 mounted life-size lions and exported trophies worth R28-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% 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.

Highveld Taxidermists has about 1000 regular clients.

Foreign hunters typically bring up to 10 animals at a time to the taxidermist. The firm's largest order from one customer was for about 400 animals.

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