SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - A Texas museum is under fire for purchasing and then euthanizing two elderly mules so that their preserved carcasses could be featured in an exhibit.
Animal welfare activists are angry about an exhibit at the American Museum of Agriculture, in Lubbock, that focuses on the McCormick Reaper, a 19th-century animal-drawn grain harvesting device that made large-scale farming possible in the Texas Panhandle.
"I don't think in the year 2012 we need to be killing animals to create a historic exhibit in a museum," James Bias, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Texas, told Reuters on Friday.
The museum has said the only way the true use of the reaper could be presented was by including mules in full harness.
"The board did consider the use of fiberglass replicas, but were advised that the impact of the exhibit would be substantially diminished," the museum said in a statement in September.
The museum said it conducted an "exhaustive yet fruitless search for preserved exhibit-quality animals," until a museum board member learned that an area horse and mule trader had purchased a pair of mules, aged 28 and 32, that were "no longer strong enough for normal use."
"The mules were humanely euthanized by a licensed veterinarian and will become excellent educational exhibits for years and years to come," the museum said.
Had the museum not purchased the mules, the trader planned to take them into Mexico for slaughter to make dog food, according to the museum.
Bias said the museum's argument "doesn't pass the smell test."
"When we look at museums across Texas and across the country, we don't find other examples of going in and killing a perfectly healthy animal so we can have the skin of that animal placed in an exhibit," Bias said.
The president of the museum's board of directors is facing a lawsuit over the museum's decision. A San Antonio man, Patrick Greene, is demanding that a judge order the museum to turn the mules' carcasses over to an animal sanctuary to be buried or cremated. Greene has also started a petition calling for the museum to remove the mules.
"It's not an exhibit that I would take my kids to," Bias said.
Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Edith Honan