Staff at London Zoo have placed a contraband handbag made from Siamese crocodile skin in an enclosure to raise awareness about the critically engendered species.
The handbag was donated to the zoo in 2018 by UK border officials and has been on display since, but it did not gain notoriety until last week after a Twitter user posted a photo of the exhibit, captioning it “London zoo not p****** around.”
The tweet – which has since received over 400,000 likes – sparked an avid online discussion, with one user writing: “That’s the kind of zoo I can get behind! No live caged animals, just the consequences of humans.”
Amongst the contributors were Ingrid Newkrik, founder and president of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), saying “London Zoo places croc bag in exhibit, instead of living croc, to wake people up to what their buying habits do to animals.”
Such reactions echoed the zoo’s statement on the dire situation, for crocodiles writing on a plaque accompanying the exhibit: “This bag used to be found swimming in slow-moving rivers and streams across Southeast Asia and Indonesia.
“Over the last 75 years more than 80% of Siamese crocodiles have disappeared. Many, like this one, were hunted for their skins as part of the illegal wildlife trade.”
These plummeting numbers – now believed to be between 500 and 1,000 in the wild – have left the species’ conservation status as “Critically Endangered”, just one stage away from “Extinct in the Wild.”
Although, according to Thai National Parks, “more than 700,000 [Siamese Crocodiles] are held on commercial crocodile farms in Southeast Asia.”
As well as hunters killing them for the skin, these reptiles face threats to their survival from several other human activities, including their wetland habitats being converted for agriculture, the subsequent use of chemical fertilisers in these areas, and war.
Some have accused London Zoo of being hypocritical, however, asking how they can earnestly oppose animal skin being used for fashion whilst keeping creatures captive for human entertainment.
Such comments seem to have done little to dampen the spirits of Dr. Ben Tapley, curator of reptiles and amphibians at ZSL (Zoological Society of London) London Zoo, who commented, “It’s great to have all these fantastic animals here but the handbag has caught people’s eye.
“We wanted to educate our visitors about it and create a talking point. Anything which shines a spotlight on the illegal trade is great.”