Guide to Selling Taxidermy at Estate Sales & Auctions

By Brandon Shinholser

Selling taxidermy is part of being an estate sale professional or auctioneer, and no doubt, you will have to deal with it at some point if you stay in the business long enough. Depending on which state you live in, you may find selling taxidermy can be a pretty complex process, especially when it comes to more heavily regulated items, like ivory. It can be difficult to keep up with all the current regulations, as the federal government continues to tighten restrictions.

There are both federal and state laws regarding selling taxidermy, and every state is different. Here at we definitely recommend checking up on your particular specimen if you have questions, to be on the safe side. (See the Taxidermy Checklist in the red box at the bottom of this web page). However, to make things a bit easier, we did a lot of the legwork for you, so you can have everything you need right here in this online selling taxidermy guide.

Federal Laws Regarding the Sale of Taxidermy

When in doubt, keep in mind that federal law always trumps state law. But you need to make sure you’re compliant with both sets of regulations. Generally, state laws are going to be stricter than federal laws. Below are the federal laws an estate sale professional needs to be familiar with, plus some helpful links:

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA)

Don’t let the word “migratory” fool you. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects all species of “migratory” birds found in the United States – and then some that aren’t, like vultures or buzzards. This Act was created to cut down on the trade of bird parts and feathers that was beginning to limit some species of birds. Bald and golden eagles are also considered migratory birds and are protected by the MBTA and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA).

Some exceptions to the law include pen-raised migratory birds by licensed breeders. Sales of such taxidermy should always be accompanied by a receipt which includes the sellers Federal Fish and Wildlife Permit issued by the Department of the Interior US Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as any applicable state-issued commercial breeders licenses.

List of birds protected by the MBTA.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA)

The Endangered Species Act affords protection to certain plant and animal species worldwide that are federally listed as “threatened” or “endangered.” This means you can’t sell these species or species parts at your estate sale, unless you can prove it’s an antique. (See ESA Antique Exception in the red box below for the rules on this, which may also apply to ivory). At the least, misdemeanor violations can be subject to up to $500, jail up to 6 months, or both. Felony violations can have fines up to $2,000, jail up to 2 years or both.

Find the full list of endangered species here, as well as the ability to search for your particular species in question.

Endangered Species Act – Antiques Exemption

Antiques Exemption

Frustrated because the species’ name is in Latin? Use this website’s search tool to find out the species’ name in English!

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and Estate Sales

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) regulates all marine animals, like the ones you’ll find at Sea World: polar bears, walrus, manatees, sea otters, etc. Polar bears are also protected under the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears, so take extra care when dealing with those specimens. Find a full description of the law and a list of regulated marine mammals here. This law is no joke – fines can run up to $100,000 and a year of jail time for individuals and up to $200,000 for organizations.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

CITES is an international wildlife trade treaty, also known as the “Washington Convention.” Drafted in 1963, CITES became enforceable in 1975. Similarly, this Act was created to protect over 35,000 species of plants and animals that can be found in this list. Some species you might find at estate sales that are protected under CITES include whales, bears, elephants, coral, and frogs. Ivory is covered here, and may also covered by the Antiques Exemption in the red box above. However, most of the list is made up of species you’re not likely to find at estate sales, like aloe or mussels. Note: you can get a pre-CITES certificate for specimens obtained from the wild before the species was listed under CITES. Contact with questions.

Got a high end estate sale with vintage furs? Be careful! CITES applies here too, and if the animal is endangered, it’s a no-go. Here’s a great primer on how to go about selling vintage furs.

The Lacey Act

The Lacey Act is one of those “catch-all” laws that prohibits selling fish or wildlife that has been illegally taken, possessed, transported, or sold. This means, you can’t violate a state law or an international law. Signed into effect in 1900, the Lacey Act was originally intended to cut back on illegal commercial hunting that threatened several game species. The government didn’t want people finding loopholes in the law by poaching in one state and selling in another where it was legal. Today its main purpose is to prevent the spread of dangerous non-native species. As an estate sale company it might seem like common sense not the law. This is just a reminder that if you do, the Lacey Act is likely to get you!

State Laws Concerning Selling Taxidermy

We talked to game wardens, game biologists, law enforcement officers, and state officials from all over the country to come up with this comprehensive state-by-state list of laws concerning selling taxidermy at estate sales and auctions in the U.S. Here you’ll find which species to watch out for, whether the state is strict (i.e. California) or lax (i.e. Texas), which number to call to get a response, and important reference links. NOTE: Some states were more forthcoming than others with information, and there were a few we couldn’t get a hold of, but we provided all the information we could, including updated contact info and links, to make your life easier!

Just click on your state to see the information.

Guide to Selling Taxidermy at Estate Sales and Auctions