A weird and wonderful collection of objects seized from smugglers is being revealed in an exclusive museum Twitter tour next week.
The bizarre array of exotic items includes a crocodile head ashtray and a stuffed mongoose in the grip of a hungry snake and was mainly found during raids and searches by UK customs officers.
Currently in storage at the state-of-the-art Leeds Discovery Centre, the objects are part of a collection on long-term loan from HM Revenue and Customs, which also includes ivory carvings, turtle shells, rare butterflies and a parrot preserved in a jar of ethanol.
The items were taken from their owners as they breached laws around importing or keeping exotic species or animal products.
Today they are used to teach visitors to the centre at Leeds Dock about animal welfare and respect for the planet’s endangered creatures.
Rebecca Machin, Leeds Museums and Galleries’ curator of natural sciences said: “This is an extraordinary collection of objects and it paints a very vivid picture of the incredible array of items that people try to bring into the UK.
“Whilst some of those people actively try to smuggle objects into the country, many others don’t realise they could also be breaking the law when they return from holiday with turtle shells, carved ivory products or items made from animal skins.
“Buying these sorts of tourist souvenirs encourages the exploitation of rare animals and can worsen the already precarious plight of endangered species worldwide, so the hope is that buy showcasing this collection, we can raise awareness of just how important it is that holidaymakers don’t support that industry.”
While most of the collection was illegally imported into the UK, many of the exotic birds in the collection were taken from a farm in North Yorkshire, where the owner had been keeping them without a licence.
Sadly, many of the birds, including a large Australian cockatoo, subsequently died and were preserved as taxidermy or skeletons, with 45 examples currently in the Discovery Centre’s collection. The owner of the farm was arrested and sent to prison.
Leeds Museums and Galleries has been taking loans of objects from customs since the 1980s.
As well as being used for educational visits, objects on loan in Leeds are also used to train HM Revenue and Customs staff in what to watch out for.
Councillor Brian Selby, Leeds City Council’s lead member for museums and galleries said:
“This is a colourful and exciting collection of objects which I’m sure will generate a lot of enthusiasm and interest on social media.
“But while people are appreciating how unusual these items are, I hope they will also have a chance to reflect on the important work that takes place to prevent items like this being bought and sold in the UK and the impact that work has on the lives of many beautiful animals around the world.”
The Leeds Discovery Centre is a state-of-the-art museum storage facility which preserves and protects Leeds Museums and Galleries collections.
It hosts visits and behind-the-scenes tours by appointment, which can be booked by contacting the centre on 0113 378 2100 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more details, visit: www.leeds.gov.uk/museumsandgalleries
The Twitter tour will begin on July 29 and can be followed at @LeedsMuseums or using the #CustomsCollection