A large glass show cabinet in the reptilian section of Vienna’s Natural History Museum serves as a poignant reminder of the impact of fashion and careless purchases on the survival of species in the wild.
- New display has snakeskin leather goods alongside a stuffed Burmese Python
- Highlights the importance of species conservation and the threats faced by snake and reptilian species in the wild
- Located in Gallery 27 of the museum
- See also: Natural History Museum visitor tips
Snakes, leather and greed
(Photo © NHM Wien, Christina Rittmannsperger)
The Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna serves various educational, scientific, environmental, and entertainment goals and often combines all four in its ever-evolving displays.
A cabinet in among the museum’s reptile collections illustrates this combination perfectly.
A 5m-long Burmese Python (Python bivattatus) from Java hangs languidly from a tree stump, its head held up above an assortment of snakeskin products strewn across the floor of the large glass display case: a stuffed cobra, handbags, wallets, boots and other clothing.
These items have all been confiscated by Austrian customs or found their way into the museum via miscellaneous bequests. They represent exactly the kind of products whose manufacture leads to poaching and the large-scale animal slaughter that contributes to declining wild snake populations.
The clear message is: don’t buy snakeskin products (or any products made from reptilian skins, frankly).
Quite apart from the impact on snake numbers, the production of snakeskin leather commonly involves significant animal welfare problems. The squeamish should look away now: the animals are often skinned alive and left to suffer an unpleasant and painful death.
The Burmese Python offers a classic case study of the impact of leather production on a species. Once a common sight in SE Asia, population numbers fell significantly in the late 20th century serving the needs of the snakeskin leather industry.
Official protection and/or export bans have allowed some recovery in, for example, Thailand and Indonesia. But snakeskin production still continues relatively unabated throughout many parts of the region.
Throw in habitat loss through agricultural encroachment and human population growth, and we have another animal species in need of protection from the impact of human activity: the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) describes the Burmese python as “Vulnerable” on its Red List of Threatened Species, and a 2012 International Trade Centre report, for example, estimated annual export numbers for Burmese Python skins of around 100,000, with most python skins sourced from the wild.
How to get to the display
Once you reach the museum (see the bottom of the main page for directions), go on up to the first floor and look for gallery 27 (Saal XXVII).
Address: Burgring 7, 1010 Vienna