Bill headed to South Dakota governor would allow museum’s taxidermy animals to find new homes

Feb 23, 2024, 1:13 PM

South Dakota’s Legislature has made it easier for the city of Sioux Falls to find new homes for more than 150 taxidermy animals of its arsenic-contaminated menagerie.

The mounted lion, tiger, polar bear and gorilla were part of display that filled a natural history museum at the state’s largest zoo. But when testing in August showed detectable levels of arsenic in nearly 80% of the specimens, the city closed the Delbridge Museum.

That set off a heated debate in the community and among museum taxidermy experts, who say the arsenic risk is overblown.

Older taxidermy specimens are frequently displayed, experts say, with museums taking precautions like using special vacuums to clean them — or encasing them in glass. But Sioux Falls officials have expressed concerns about the cost. And the display occupies prime real estate near the Great Plains Zoo’s entrance, which officials are eyeing as they look for a spot to build an aquarium and butterfly conservatory.

The situation is complicated by a morass of state and federal laws that limit what can be done with the mounts.

One issue is that the Endangered Species Act protects animals even in death, so the collection can’t be sold. Under federal law, they could be given to another museum. But state law stipulates that exhibits like this must remain within the state.

And that stipulation is what the new legislation aims to address. The bill, passed Thursday by the Senate and headed to Gov. Kristi Noem, would allow the city to donate the collection to an out-of-state nonprofit. The bill would take effect July 1.

“Rather than losing it to history, we could donate it to a reputable museum out of state,” Sioux Falls City Council Member Greg Neitzert said in an interview. Such a donation would still have to navigate federal laws, he added.

No decision has yet been made as to the collection’s future. Great Plains Zoo spokesperson Denise DePaolo said a city working group “will take this new possibility and weigh it against other options before making a recommendation to the city council and mayor in the coming months.”

Virtually no nonprofit in the state could accept the collection, as large as it is, Neitzert said.

The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections told the city that museums outside of South Dakota have expressed interest in accepting the collection in whole or in part, he said. Neitzert declined to identify what entities have reached out with interest.

The law change comes as the city awaits the results of an evaluation of the condition of the mounts and how much it would cost to restore them. The city decided in December to pay $55,000 for the evaluation, which the consultant recently finished.

“Basically, everybody’s on hold waiting for that report and for the task force to continue its work,” he said.

The shift away from ditching the collection entirely began in September when Mayor Paul TenHaken announced a “strategic pause” and created the working group. That group has discussed several possibilities for the taxidermy, including keeping a scaled-back portion of the collection and relocating it.

To destroy the collection, particularly specimens of endangered species at risk of extinction, would be a moral tragedy, Neitzert said.

“I mean, these are irreplaceable. They’re works of art,” he said.

National News

Associated Press

A state trooper pleaded guilty to assaulting teens over a doorbell prank. He could face prison time

DOVER, Del. (AP) — A suspended Delaware state trooper is facing prison time after pleading guilty to criminal charges involving a brutal assault on a teenager who targeted the trooper’s house in a prank. Dempsey Walters, 30, pleaded guilty Friday to second-degree assault and deprivation of civil rights, both felonies, authorities said. He also pleaded […]

20 minutes ago

Associated Press

Sawfish rescued in Florida as biologists try to determine why the ancient fish are dying

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A large sawfish that showed signs of distress was rescued by wildlife officials in the Florida Keys, where more than three dozen of the ancient and endangered fish have died for unexplained reasons in recent months. The 11-foot (3.3-meter) smalltooth sawfish was seen swimming in circles near Cudjoe Key and […]

37 minutes ago

Associated Press

‘HELP’ sign on beach points rescuers to men stuck nine days on remote Pacific atoll

Three men stranded on an uninhabited Pacific island survived for more than a week and used palm fronds to spell out HELP on the beach – leading to rescue by Navy and Coast Guard aviators who spotted the sign from several thousand feet in the air. They had embarked March 31 in a 20-foot boat […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Crash of semitrailer into Texas public safety office was intentional, lawmaker says

BRENHAM, Texas (AP) — The driver of a stolen semitrailer intentionally rammed it into a Texas public safety office in a rural town west of Houston on Friday, injuring multiple people, according to a state lawmaker. Three people were airlifted with critical injuries and three others were transported in serious condition after the crash of […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Prosecutors: South Carolina prison supervisor took $219,000 in bribes; got 173 cellphones to inmates

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A supervisor who managed security at a South Carolina prison accepted more than $219,000 in bribes over three years and got 173 contraband cellphones for inmates, according to federal prosecutors. Christine Mary Livingston, 46, was indicted earlier this month on 15 charges including bribery, conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering. Livingston […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Oil and gas companies must pay more to drill on public lands under new Biden administration rule

WASHINGTON (AP) — Oil and gas companies will have to pay more to drill on public lands and satisfy stronger requirements to clean up old or abandoned wells, according to a final rule issued Friday by the Biden administration. The Interior Department’s rule raises royalty rates for oil drilling by more than one-third, to 16.67%, […]

4 hours ago

Bill headed to South Dakota governor would allow museum’s taxidermy animals to find new homes