The bag was seized by UK border officials at a London airport in 2018 and handed to the zoo to raise awareness.
London Zoo's out-of-the-box efforts to educate visitors about the illegal wildlife trade are making a splash on social media. One particular enclosure at ZSL London Zoo, aka London Zoological Gardens—the world's oldest scientific zoo, found online overnight fame earlier this year after a visitor tweeted about an unusual inhabitant. Twitter user Claire St. Clair (who goes by @sleepy_homo on the platform) tweeted an image of the display with the caption: "London zoo not pissing around." The image was that of the endangered Siamese crocodile where instead of a living, breathing reptile, visitors are greeted by a handbag made from the skin of one such crocodile.
London zoo not pissing around pic.twitter.com/C9cxoDCba2— Claire St. Clair (@sleepy_homo) August 1, 2022
A sign beneath the crocodile skin item reads: "This bag used to be found swimming in slow-moving rivers and streams across South East Asia and Indonesia. Over the last 75 years, more than 80 percent of Siamese crocodiles have disappeared. Many, like this one, were hunted for their skin as part of the illegal wildlife trade." The tweet left quite an impression on social media users and has accrued more than 400,000 likes since being shared a couple of months ago. Thousands commented on the tweet, applauding the zoo for its efforts to raise awareness of the damaging effects of poaching on the animal kingdom.
This is why zoos are so important. They teach the public to care about wildlife!— Damíèn (@ThatZooKid) August 1, 2022
This is art. We need more unexpected activism from "normal" places like this. Even though usually the zoo has some sort of conservation connection, this level of "shock" is 👩🍳🤌— Ren Elizabeth | Eco-conscious artist (@HerbalLandline) August 1, 2022
Thanks for getting the word out about this. Hopefully it actually gets through to some people. Killing animals for fashion and makeup will never be justified.— Kimchi ♡ (@Kimchimochiii) August 2, 2022
According to BBC, the crocodile skin bag was seized by U.K. border officials at a London airport back in 2018. It was handed to the zoo to be displayed among its enclosures so as to highlight the impact of illegal wildlife trade across the globe. As a result of habitat loss and hunting, only 500 to 1000 Siamese crocodiles are believed to be left in the world. "The handbag, made from the skin of a Critically Endangered Siamese crocodile, was confiscated at a UK airport, and given to ZSL London Zoo to use for educational purposes," Ben Tapley, curator of reptiles and amphibians at ZSL London Zoo, told HuffPost's U.K. edition.
The London Zoo is utterly savage. I respect that. https://t.co/AneN1VcbNY— Sebastian Bae (@SebastianBae) August 3, 2022
"We made this exhibit, within ZSL London Zoo's Reptile House, to draw visitors' attention to the devastating impact the Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) is having on species around the world," Tapley added. "At ZSL we are working globally with governments and local communities to protect wildlife, support law enforcement that targets trafficking networks, empower local communities affected by IWT and reduce demand for threatened wildlife."
Honestly good, love this and despise hunting animals to make their skin into clothes and accessories. https://t.co/c4qvZHOxdG— 🌸 Yazoo! (Commissions OPEN) 🌸 (@TheNeonFox) August 1, 2022
Addressing the display's newfound fame online, Tapley admitted he was pleased it is spreading awareness as intended. "It's great to have all these fantastic animals here but the handbag has caught people's eye," he said. "We wanted to educate our visitors about it and create a talking point. Anything which shines a spotlight on the illegal trade is great." Tapley explained that in their normal habitat, Siamese crocodiles would be found swimming in slow-moving rivers across southeast Asia and Indonesia. However, the population was "hit really hard" by the trade in the mid to late 20th century as many were hunted for their skin for commercial use. "Their populations are fragmented and how functional those populations are is questionable," he added.