Britain's Foreign Office has come under fire after it emerged that it paid £10,000 to re-stuff a giant anaconda named Albert.
The 20-foot snake, which has been in the possession of the foreign office for at least 120 years, is believed to have been presented to colonial officials in what is now Guyana in the 19th century.
Foreign Secretary William Hague revealed at the Conservative party conference last month that Albert, who has spent most of the last century hanging above the ministry library, was being restored.
"He is looking very optimistic about the future of our foreign policy," Hague joked.
But a request under freedom of information legislation by the Guido Fawkes political blog revealed on Thursday that the taxidermy job cost the ministry £10,000 at a time when the government is introducing steep spending cuts.
A spokesman said that as Albert was a gift, he is regarded as a government asset.
"As such, the foreign office is obliged to maintain its assets, and the work on 'Albert' was essential maintenance," he said.
"It is believed that 'Albert' was first re-stuffed in the 1960s or 1970s, but there are no records of how much it cost on that occasion. Certainly no significant maintenance has been carried out on him in the last 40-50 years."
He added: "The cost of the conservation and restoration work on 'Albert' was £10,000. The work was undertaken by the conservation team at the Natural History Museum, over a five-week period, from May 21 to June 26."
The process had involved specialist x-rays on Albert, the spokesman said.
The government has introduced a broad range of spending cuts and tax rises since it came to power in May 2010, in a bid to slash Britain's huge deficit.