Rare dodo skeleton expected to fetch up to £500,000 at auction

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The first near-complete skeleton of a flightless dodo bird has come up for sale in almost 100 years and auctioneers predict it could fetch up to £500,000 when it goes under the hammer next week.

The 95% finished composite skeleton has been painstakingly assembled by an enthusiast who started buying bones from private collections and auctions in the 1970s.

(Gareth Fuller/PA)
The dodo skeleton is the first to go on sale for nearly 100 years (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The collector has now decided to part with the item, which is set to fetch between £300,000 and £500,000 at Summers Place Auctions' fourth Evolution sale in Billingshurst, West Sussex, on November 22.

Its natural history curator, Errol Fuller, said the best examples of composite skeletons included those at London's Natural History Museum, the Museum of Zoology in Cambridge and the Durban Natural Science Museum.

(Gareth Fuller/PA)
Employee Lindsay Hoadley prepares the almost complete dodo skeleton at Summers Place Auctions in Billingshurst, West Sussex (Gareth Fuller/PA)

He said: "I am sure I won't be the only one among dodo experts who thinks that this is an amazingly rare opportunity for the acquisition of one of the great icons of extinction."

Dodos, which were popularised by their role in the novel Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, grew to 3ft (1m) tall and were flightless birds with pigeons as their closest relatives.

First seen by Dutch sailors in 1598, they lived on the island of Mauritius but became extinct just 70 years or so after their discovery.

(Matt Dunham AP/PA)
The bird gets a little light dusting before its big day at auction on November 22 (Matt Dunham AP)

The Mauritian government has since banned exports of dodo bones and auctioneers believe it highly unlikely that another composite skeleton will come up for sale again.

Summers Place has a track record of selling unique skeletons. In November 2013, it sold a long-necked diplodocus longus dinosaur skeleton to the Natural History Museum of Denmark for £400,000.