Government budgets may be constricting all round Whitehall, but when it comes to the urgent matter of serpent taxidermy, cash can always be found.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has spent £10,000 on restoration work to “Albert”, a 20-foot-long stuffed anaconda it acquired in the 19th century.
Believed to have been given to the Colonial Secretary of what is now Guyana by a Bishop, Albert has been hanging in the FCO’s library for most of the hundreds of years he has been living in Whitehall.
But when he was temporarily moved for restoration work, it was noticed that he was not in particularly good condition.
A Freedom of Information request made by political blogger Paul Staines revealed that some £10,000 was spent on restoring him to his former glory in a five-week operation undertaken by a team from the National History Museum, using an expensive X-ray CT scanning machine.
While the FCO is cutting its budget by 25 per cent over the next four years, and selling off a number of its lavish properties abroad, it defended the decision to restore Albert. “We will not be constricted nor will we scale back in our dedicated to preserving this historic national treasure.
This will preserve him for posterity,” a sharp-tongued spokesperson said.
In response to the FoI request, the FCO said: “As a gift to the FCO, Albert is therefore regarded as an FCO asset. As such, the FCO is obliged to maintain its assets, and the work on Albert was essential maintenance.”