550 Hunting Trophies Found in Undercover Investigation in Iowa

Auction items included elephant-leg tables, zebra skins, and a taxidermy polar bear.

zebra and other taxidermy for sale
Zebras and other taxidermy for sale at auction.


There were tables made from giraffe legs and elephant feet, an assortment of zebra and bear-skin rugs, and a taxidermy polar bear.

They were just some of more than 550 animal trophies and parts sold at a four-day auction in Maquoketa, Iowa.

An undercover investigator from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Humane Society International (HSI) describes shelves, bins, and boxes piled with bones and mounted trophy animals. There were 50 or more rugs made from animals including grizzly bears, wolves, and mountain lions. There were giraffe and hippo skulls and a box labeled “elephant ears and skin.”

“It was a macabre scene of dead animal body displays and dusty boxes of animal skins and parts—a scene the investigator did not think possible in a civilized society,” Adam Peyman, director of wildlife programs for HSI, tells Treehugger.

The auction was mentioned by a taxidermist to the investigator during another investigation. According to auction staff and participants at the event, many of the items were trophies and taxidermy that owners no longer wanted.

“Some trophy hunters lose interest in these grotesque souvenirs of their kills and dump the trophies into an auction to make a few bucks,” Peyman says. “Other trophies are taxidermy were sold due to trophy hunters downsizing or selling their homes and being advised by realtors to ‘get rid of those dead critters.’”

animal tusks at auction
Hippo tusks.


Many of the animals that were sold at the auction were threatened, endangered, and vulnerable species, including African elephants, giraffes, and polar bears. They included tables and lamps made from giraffe legs and feet and tables and wastebaskets made from African elephant feet.

The highest-selling item at the auction was a taxidermy polar bear with a ringed seal. The set sold for $26,000. A taxidermy baby giraffe, promoted as “the perfect size that can go in about any room in the house,” sold for $6,200.

There were 39 black bears, including five cubs and a mother-cub pair, as well as seven grizzly bears and three brown bears. There were also six monkeys, including a stuffed vervet holding a beer bottle, and two hollowed elephant feet with a note saying they “would make a nice trash can.”

Photos from the event show shoppers inspecting the merchandise before they bid. There were online and proxy bidders, but many buyers were on the scene.

“According to auction staff, participants are largely taxidermy collectors or resellers who purchase animal parts and make them into more profitable trophy mounts and products,” Peyman says.

Legal or Not?

elephant-leg tables
Elephant-leg tables and taxidermy items.


It’s unclear whether any of the items were being sold illegally, according to HSUS. Auction staff and participants said the age and origin of most of the items were generally unknown, so the animals and their parts may have been obtained illegally.

“Many of the trophies and taxidermy lacked any sort of documentation proving the origin and legality of the items, so it was not possible to determine whether they had been hunted legally or legally imported into the U.S. in the case of foreign species. If any of these items were not hunted or acquired legally, subsequent sale and purchase would be in violation of federal law,” Peyman says.

“Further, in some states like Washington, Oregon (in the case of African elephant products) and New York (in the case of giraffe products), sale and purchase of parts and products of some of the species auctioned are prohibited by state law. Therefore, auction participants in these states (who could participate in the auction online and shipping was offered) could be breaking state laws by buying these items.”

HSUS/HSI points out that hunting these animals and the subsequent sale of the trophies preserve the demand for these species, which can push them toward endangerment and extinction.

“It is deeply saddening to see trophies and taxidermy of iconic wild animal species being sold off to the highest bidder, thereby spurring further demand for these species and their products and possibly even encouraging the public to trophy hunt,” Peyman says.

“The bottom line is that the U.S. is the number one importer of hunting trophies, including imperiled species. But we change this by urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prohibit the import of any trophy of a species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) into the United States as well as prohibiting trophy hunting in the United States of any ESA-listed species.”

View Article Sources
  1. "Auction Exposed as Marketplace for Discarded Hunting Trophies." Humane Society, 2021.

  2. Adam Peyman, director of wildlife programs for Humane Society International