Image: Taxidermy shop
Francois Mori  /  AP
"The flames were incredible. They devoured this place at lightning speed," said owner Prince Louis Albert de Broglie, pictured here with a couple of the "survivors."
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updated 11/11/2008 3:21:28 PM ET 2008-11-11T20:21:28

The fire's survivors were a motley crew: A parrot, a peacock and a baboon. All of them stuffed.

Now, after the devastating blaze, the animals' home, famed Parisian taxidermy store Deyrolle, is rising like a phoenix from the ashes. An auction this week at Christie's Paris will raise funds to help restore the 177-year-old shop to its former glory.

"The flames were incredible. They devoured this place at lightning speed," said owner Prince Louis Albert de Broglie of the Feb. 1 fire. Ninety percent of the store's stock went up in smoke, said de Broglie, who estimated his losses in the millions of euros (dollars).

Gone were the store's antique Nile perch skeleton and its famed fossil collection. Gone, too, the cabinets full of brilliant butterflies and exotic birds that attracted generations of painters and sealed the store's reputation as a haven for artists.

Several rooms of the sprawling, multilevel store — located in the heart of the chic Saint Germain des Pres neighborhood — have already been restored and reopened for business, and the animals are multiplying. A pack of tigers pads across the shining hardwood floors and an albatross bursts into flight.

The taxidermy studio, once housed in a still-unrestored wing, has been moved off site. The taxidermists now work from home.

Most of the animals for sale at Deyrolle died of natural causes in zoos, wildlife parks and circuses across Europe, though the store also mounts the occasional hunter's trophy.

They used to take special orders from bereaved pet owners, but de Broglie has put a stop to that.

"I was sick of these little old ladies who would come to us in tears when Fifi died but by the time they were supposed to pick him up, changed their minds," he said. Before the fire, dozens of abandoned cats and dogs had long been gathering dust in the basement.

Deyrolle's longevity turned it into a Paris institution that stood, virtually unchanged, as a reminder of a bygone era even as the capital evolved and Saint Germain des Pres turned into one of the city's most exclusive shopping hubs.

10 scariest animals in natureInterior decorators are now among the store's main clients, snapping up items that range in price from about $39 for a butterfly to as much as $32,000 for a lion.

De Broglie, a soft-spoken aristocrat who turned a historic Loire Valley chateau into Europe's most important tomato garden conservatory, already brought Deyrolle back from the brink once. A banker by training, de Broglie took over the then-faltering shop in 2001 and restored it to financial health.

The fire came just as the store was back in the black.

The cause of the blaze is not entirely clear, but de Broglie said faulty electrical wiring at a neighboring boutique was the likely culprit.

The flames broke out beneath the ground floor level and licked their way up to the second-floor showroom, where the lion's share of the stuffed menagerie was on display.

News of the blaze spread almost as quickly as the flames among the store's devotees. Onlookers gathered behind the police cordon witnessed a surreal sight as, a day after the fire, soldiers helped Deyrolle's staff move the dozen or so salvaged animals to a temporary storage area across the street.

Artists, too, were also quick to descend on the burnt-out store.

"Deyrolle was their source of inspiration, part of their intellectual property," said de Broglie. "After the fire, there was this overwhelming desire to help the place that had helped them so much."

American photographer Nan Goldin, known for her intimate images of lovers, snapped the destruction, as did Canadian photographer Karen Knorr and France's Sophie Calle.

Their photos are among 46 lots at a charity auction for Deyrolle, to be held at Christie's Paris on Nov. 13.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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