African elephant (Loxodonta africana)

Luis Benedito

Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, MNCN - CSIC

Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, MNCN - CSIC
Madrid, Spain

The African elephant is one of the most emblematic pieces of the museum and its story is fascinating. It was hunted in Sudan in 1913 by the Duke of Alba who decided to donate its skin to the museum. Following their tradition, the indigenous people stabbed the skin with knives and spears so it was quite deteriorated. A bundle was made with the different pieces of skin and was sent to Spain where it remained unnoticed until 1923. Finally, the elephant was naturalized by Luis Benedito, and it was not mounted until 1930. The oddest thing is that the taxidermist had never seen an elephant before, neither alive or dissected, so he had to do some research to determine its hypothetical dimension. As in the museum there was no space to prepare the skin, which weighted 600 kg and occupied an area of 37 m2, it was sent to the Royal Botanic Garden. After a comprehensive study and multiple scale models, he built an frame of 3,450 kg made of wood, metal mesh and plaster. Finally he covered it with the already tanned and glued skin, holding it with 77,000 pins until the skin dried. Once the process was over the elephant had to make a last trip to return to the museum, towed by a truck through one of Madrid's main street, el Paseo de la Castellana, causing astonishment on its way.


  • Title: African elephant (Loxodonta africana)
  • Creator Lifespan: 1885/1955
  • Creator Nationality: Spanish
  • Type: Naturalized specimens
  • Taxidermist: Luis Benedito
  • Scientific name: Loxodonta africana

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