London Zoo's bizarre handbag enclosure highlights 'unforgivable' cruelty

·Environment Editor
·3-min read

A Tweet showing a London Zoo enclosure filled with a handbag instead of a live crocodile has gone viral.

Shared on Tuesday, the post attracted almost 400,000 likes and 68,000 retweets in just two days.

At first glance, the installation looks to have come out of the mind of an artist like Banksy, who has made animal welfare the focus of many works.

London Zoo visitors expecting to see a crocodile instead found a leather handbag. Source: Getty (File) / Twitter
London Zoo visitors expecting to see a crocodile instead found a leather handbag. Source: Getty (File) / Twitter

In his New York installation, The Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill, he included fish sticks swimming in a fish bowl, and hotdogs in reptile enclosures.

Another culprit could have been animal rights group PETA, or even World Animal Protection (WAP), both who have run campaigns against luxury brands using crocodile skin to make handbags.

Speaking with Yahoo News Australia on Thursday, WAP’s Ben Pearson confirmed it wasn’t connected to his charity.

“I think this exhibit is great because it draws attention to the problem of using wild animals for fashion products,” he said.

Reaction to the tweet at a glance

  • "This is art. We need more unexpected activism from "normal" places like this."

  • "Nice promo for the bag if we’re being honest."

  • "Thank you for the work you have done as a zoo educator!"

The organisation behind the handbag exhibit revealed

Surprisingly, the exhibit was actually installed by London Zoo itself. An accompanying plaque reveals why.

“This bag used to be found swimming in slow-moving rivers and streams across Southeast Asia and Indonesia,” it says.

“Over the last 75 years more than 80 per cent of Siamese crocodiles have disappeared. Many, like this one, were hunted for their skins as part of the illegal wildlife trade.”

Siamese crocodiles are now critically endangered. Source: Getty (File)
Siamese crocodiles are now critically endangered. Source: Getty (File)

The bag itself was confiscated by UK customs at London Airport in 2018 and was handed to the zoo to highlight the impact of the illegal wildlife trade.

Siamese crocodiles are now critically endangered due to hunting and habitat loss, and number between just 500 and 1000 individuals, according to the IUCN Red List.

London Zoo’s reptile and amphibian curator Dr Ben Tapley told BBC that despite the display not being new, he was pleased people were suddenly paying attention.

"It's great to have all these fantastic animals here but the handbag has caught people's eye," he said.

Welfare groups slam designer handbag companies

While the handbag highlights issues with endangered crocodiles, WAP’s Mr Pearson has been campaigning against the use of all wild animals in fashion.

In 1970s, crocodiles were facing extinction in Australia, but with their numbers now abundant eggs are collected from the wild so the hatchlings can be raised on large-scale farms for meat and leather.

Crocodiles are used by a number of luxury brands to create handbags. Source: Getty (File)
Crocodiles are used by a number of luxury brands to create handbags. Source: Getty (File)

Proponents of commercial crocodile production argue it encourages the conservation of wild populations, however Mr Pearson argues it results in animal welfare issues.

“There's a legal trade in saltwater crocodile skins for big fashion houses like Hermes and Louie Vuitton,” he said.

“The trade is associated with enormous cruelty to these animals. They live a short life before suffering a brutal death just for a handbag and that's just unforgivable.”

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