TOPEKA — Tiger and lion pelts seized from wildlife traffickers have been donated to a pair of Kansas zoos — including one in Topeka — to be used for educational purposes.

Stephen McAlister, U.S. attorney for Kansas, announced last week that the Topeka Zoo received a tiger pelt and the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita received a tiger and lion pelt that federal agents seized from wildlife traffickers.

In a news release, McAllister said his office donated the pelts to the zoos.

The pelts were seized by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents who were enforcing federal laws aimed at protecting endangered animals and disrupting the global black market for hides and other parts of protected wildlife, McAllister said.

“Poachers, wildlife smugglers and black-market merchants are stealing our last chance to protect and preserve creatures of awesome strength and beauty,” McAllister said. “Once these animals go, they will be gone forever. They are a precious natural resource that the federal government protects, including by criminal prosecution of illegal traffickers.”

Prosecution for international wildlife trafficking crimes is the responsibility of the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, along with United States Attorneys’ Offices across the country. The enforcement is done primarily under the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act. Additional related to wildlife trafficking can include smuggling, money laundering and criminal conspiracy.

McAllister said the Justice Department estimates international illegal trade in wildlife generates as much as $23 billion each year.

In recent years, federal agents have investigated wildlife trafficking cases in Kansas that have included deer and elk that had been poached by guides and hunters; eagle feathers that were being unlawfully sold; and Asian leopard cats unlawfully imported to Kansas.

Federal prosecutors across the country also have pursued cases involving native turtles being exported to other countries.

Dennis Dinwiddie, director of education and conservation for the Topeka Zoo, said the tiger pelt will be used to raise awareness of the plight of endangered species around the world and to promote a "conversation mindset" for zoo visitors. The Sumatran tigers at the Topeka Zoo are a critically endangered species, with fewer than 400 remaining in the wild, Dinwiddie said.

Topeka Zoo visitors will be allowed to touch and feel the pelt at select times and days, Dinwiddie said. The goal, he said, is for the pelt to serve as a graphic reminder of the need to conserve endangered wildlife species.

"By putting it into the hands of a zoo that will use it for education," Dinwiddie said, "it will allow the tiger to continue to be an ambassador for its own species, even after its death."

Dinwiddie said the tiger pelt will be used both for zoo and school programs.

The pelt will be included on the tiger docent cart that will be stationed in front of the Topeka Zoo's tiger exhibit from 10 a.m. to noon and 2 to 4 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 1.