A giant polar bear lurking in a Dunedin lounge now has a new hunting ground.

An unnamed buyer paid $33,000 for the examples of the art of taxidermy after a ferocious bidding war in Dunedin yesterday.

The bear was among more than 150 exotic stuffed animals - including a lion, a moose, water buffalo, a baboon and stools made from elephant feet - to go under the hammer at Proctor Auctions.

A crowd of about 300 spectators and more serious collectors were on hand for the auction, some having flown to Dunedin just to attend it, auction house owner Ronnie Proctor said.

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Bidding had been "pretty buoyant", particular for the polar bear, which had been expected to sell for closer to $20,000.

"It started off fairly slow but then it picked up towards the end and there was a couple of people fighting over it towards the end."

The unusual collection of animals came from three separate private collections in Queenstown, Dunedin and Arrowtown, he said.

The polar bear came from the Dunedin collection and before yesterday's auction had been on display in the lounge of its previous owner, Proctor said.

He would not identify the sellers, except to say that the Dunedin collection was understood to be from one of the biggest taxidermy collectors in the country.

"We were quite lucky to get the collection. It's such a rare collection, I think, that that's what drove the prices."

He would not identify the buyers either, but said the polar bear, together with a moose which sold for $8000 and a lion for $8500, would probably "be on display somewhere that the public can look at - not in Dunedin".

Julie Davis, of Christchurch, was among those to take in the auction while on a trip to Dunedin for Saturday's Eagles concert.

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She was impressed by the quality of the displays, although less sure about the ethics behind the animals' fates.

"It makes you feel a bit sick," she said.

Her companion, who declined to be named, agreed.

"I feel like I thought I would feel ... wouldn't it be nice if they were just allowed to live?"

Proctor said the auction house had experienced little public "blowback" despite the contentious nature of the auction.

"There were some negative comments online, but once we explained our position on the animals - and the fact they were shot in the 1950s, '60s and '70s - I think people were a lot more understanding, because it was a profession back then to do it.

"We certainly wouldn't condone anything like that now."