Triceratops to reach monster price at auction

For sale: one dinosaur, 24ft long, 65 million years old, only the second fossil of this grandeur ever to go under the auctioneer's hammer.

Would suit well-endowed museum or very spoilt, dino-mad, four-year-old with large bedroom. Reserve price: €500,000 (£375,000).

For the next six weeks, a two-thirds complete skeleton of a Triceratops horridus (horrible three-horned reptile) will dominate the Christie's auction show-room in Paris. The dinosaur, with its missing bones replaced by resin replicas, will be the star attraction at what will be, literally, a "monster sale" in the French capital on 16 April.

Other lots include the skull of a sabre-toothed tiger, a titanosaur's egg, the skull of a duck-billed dinosaur and the tooth of a plesiosaur, the maritime dinosaur which may, or may not, survive as the Loch Ness Monster.

There is also also a three- tonne meteorite and a remarkable frieze of fossilised fish, 50 million years old, resembling a stone aquarium. The 150 lots, from three private collections, will form Christie's second annual sale of high-class fossils in Paris. The first auction, in April last year, which raised more than €1m, included a mammoth and a woolly rhinoceros.

The star of this year's sale is undoubtedly the Triceratops, which is only the second near-complete, large dinosaur skeleton ever to go for public auction. The last, a Tyrannosaurus rex, sold by Sotheby's in New York 11 years ago, fetched $8m (about £5.1m) and went to the Chicago Museum. The Triceratops was a heavily armoured, vegetarian dinosaur, which protected itself from the marauding T-rex with its three horns and its characteristic, bony, raised collar. It had powerful, beak-like jaws which could crush even the toughest vegetation and is believed to have grazed in packs.

The skeleton on sale in Paris was dug up by a rancher in North Dakota and bought by an unnamed "western European" collector four years ago.

Eric Mickeler, expert in natural history at Christie's and organiser of the auction on 16 April, says that there is a "growing demand" in Europe for high-class, and high-price, fossils. Previously relics of such quality were sold only in New York and Los Angeles.

Bids are also expected for the Triceratops from the new museums in the Gulf states and, especially, a new natural history museum in Qatar. "There are fragments of the Triceratops in many museums but this is only the fourth example of such a complete skeleton ever to be found," M. Mickeler said.

The experts warn, however, that fossil auctions and fossil-sales websites are encouraging fossil-hunting on a commercial scale. Several trawlers working from Dutch ports have given up fishing and begun hoovering the seabed for giant dinosaur fossils from the time when the North Sea was a grassy plain.