How the Head of the N.R.A. and His Wife Secretly Shipped Their Elephant Trophies Home
The couple had their names removed from the shipment, and placed an order for the animals’ feet to be turned into “stools,” an “umbrella stand,” and a “trash can.”
By Mike Spies
July 29, 2021
In the early fall of 2013, an export company in Botswana prepared a shipment of animal parts for Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, and his wife, Susan. One of the business’s managers e-mailed the couple a list of trophies from their recent hunt and asked them to confirm its accuracy: one cape-buffalo skull, two sheets of elephant skin, two elephant ears, four elephant tusks, and four front elephant feet. Once the inventory was confirmed, the e-mail stated, “we will be able to start the dipping and packing process.” Ten days later, Susan wrote back with a request: the shipment should have no clear links to the LaPierres. She told the shipping company to use the name of an American taxidermist as “the consignee” for the items, and further requested that the company “not use our names anywhere if at all possible.” Susan noted that the couple also expected to receive, along with the elephant trophies, an assortment of skulls and skins from warthogs, impalas, a zebra, and a hyena. Once the animal parts arrived in the States, the taxidermist would turn them into decorations for the couple’s home in Virginia, and prepare the elephant skins so they could be used to make personal accessories, such as handbags.
The LaPierres felt secrecy was needed, the e-mails show, because of a public uproar over an episode of the hunting show “Under Wild Skies,” in which the host, Tony Makris, had fatally shot an elephant. The N.R.A. sponsored the program, and the couple feared potential blowback if the details of their Botswana hunt became public. Footage of their safari, which was filmed for “Under Wild Skies” and recently published by The Trace and The New Yorker, shows that Wayne had struggled to kill an elephant at close range, while Susan felled hers with a single shot and cut off its tail in jubilation. Plans to air an episode featuring the LaPierres’ hunt were cancelled.
Records obtained by The Trace and The New Yorker show that Susan leveraged the LaPierres’ status to secretly ship animal trophies from their safari to the U.S., where the couple received free taxidermy work. New York Attorney General Letitia James, who has regulatory authority over the N.R.A., is currently seeking to dissolve the nonprofit for a range of alleged abuses, including a disregard for internal controls designed to prevent self-dealing and corruption by its executives. In a complaint filed last August, James’s office asserted that trophy fees and taxidermy work “constituted private benefits and gifts in excess of authorized amounts pursuant to NRA policy to LaPierre and his wife.” The new records appear to confirm those allegations. The N.R.A.’s rules explicitly state that gifts from contractors cannot exceed two hundred and fifty dollars. The shipping and taxidermy of the Botswana trophies cost thousands, and provided no benefit to the N.R.A.—only to the LaPierres. In the complaint, James’s office alleged that the LaPierres also received improper benefits related to big-game hunting trips in countries including Tanzania, South Africa, and Argentina. The attorney general declined to comment further on the details of the case.
Taxidermy work orders containing the LaPierres’ names called for the elephants’ four front feet to be turned into “stools,” an “umbrella stand,” and a “trash can.” At their request, tusks were mounted, skulls were preserved, and the hyena became a rug. The episode represents a rare instance in which the gun group’s embattled chief executive is captured, on paper, unambiguously violating N.R.A. rules; the e-mails show that Susan directed the process while Makris’s company, Under Wild Skies Inc., which received millions of dollars from the N.R.A., picked up the tab.