Three stuffed lions, three leopards and a giant crocodile have been seized from a private home in eastern France. These animals are thought to have been hunted in Africa in the 1980s, customs officials said.

The French authorities termed the capture, from near Besancon, about 410km southeast of Paris, one of the most "remarkable" seizures of protected species in recent years. The stuffed animals have been handed over to Paris' natural history museum.

The deceased father of the current owner of the house is believed to have brought back the animals from an African hunt. Prosecutors have imposed an undisclosed fine on his son.

"These animals are of a great beauty, rarity and quality," Helene Crocquevieille, the head of the French customs office, told the Associated Press. Crocquevieille added that the seized stuffed animals were "only a fraction of the dozens or hundreds of seizures of protected species made by the French customs office annually".

Horns of rhinos and elephants' ivory that are poached and ground to be used in medicines by quacks are often seized by custom officials, she said. "This trade is becoming more profitable alongside that of arms and drugs," Crocquevieille added.

The Besancon seizure was done following a tipoff last year. The animals are protected by the Washington Convention on international trade in endangered species even after death, officials said.