Shoppers and visitors to a Suffolk town centre were greeted by an unusual sight - a human dressed as a snake laying in a tank 'enclosure'.

The 'Therese Coffey: Give Snakes Space!' display was organised by the animal welfare charity People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on the Triangle in Felixstowe and called on the Suffolk Coastal MP to increase the size of snake enclosures.

The appeal was made to Dr Coffey as she is also secretary of state for the environment, representing the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), while Felixstowe was chosen as the site for the demonstration because the town is in her constituency.

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PETA and other animal charities have threatened DEFRA with legal action if the department failed to update its guidelines for minimum enclosure sizes for snakes.

A PETA spokesperson said currently, snakes are allowed to be kept in enclosures in which they can not fully stretch out their bodies, but DEFRA's own Animal Welfare Committee has stated that snakes need to have enough room to stretch out.

In a letter sent to DEFRA warning of potential legal measures, the charities urged the department to require that snakes are kept in enclosures that are at least as long as the snakes are, adding that this measure had been successfully implemented in Wales.

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PETA senior campaigns manager Kate Werner said: "Keeping snakes in claustrophobic enclosures where they can’t unfurl their bodies is physically and psychologically damaging, just as it would be for anyone else.

“PETA is calling on Coffey to get out of bed with the pet trade and give snakes the space they need.” 

The PETA supporter was in Felixstowe for a day, laid out on a table inside a tiny tank. 

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A spokesperson for Defra said: "We are carefully considering the recommendations in the Animal Welfare Committee’s Opinion paper on the housing of snakes.

"The wide diversity of snakes in the pet trade is associated with a range of natural behaviours and welfare needs, which creates a complex picture when defining snake selling requirements.

"We are considering our next steps."