Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Wesley "Skip" Skidmore, standing, is assisted by BYU students Adam and Holly Beck as they stretch a white rhino skin over a model at museum.

Taxidermist Wesley "Skip" Skidmore went to work Tuesday morning stretching the skin of an African Southern White Rhino over a pre-fitted model for a conservation-themed exhibit at a Brigham Young University museum.

And he did it despite criticism from animal-rights groups that have demanded that university officials cancel the animal display.

The Humane Society of the United States censured university officials in a letter on Nov. 19 about the display at the Monte L. Bean Life Museum.

Four days later, the Humane Society of Utah joined protesters in calling for a halt to the exhibit.

University officials responded by saying the animal had been legally hunted and donated for the cause of education and conservation awareness.

"I'm not offended by (the display)," said Cricket Veenker, standing a few feet from the large plastic-covered Rhino temporarily lying on its side. "And we'll all be back to see it when it's finished."

Veenker visited the museum with her husband and their three children as a family activity.

"We come here five or six times a year," she said while her three young children scampered from one stuffed animal to the next.

They took turns staring at each of the animals' snarled noses and large white fangs, finally backing away toward the safety of their father.

"It's a game they like to play," Veenker said, smiling and slightly embarrassed.

Visitors routinely stopped, pointed and whispered to friends about the covered white rhino.

Originally the exhibit was to include a 17-minute video featuring an interview with the hunter, Fred Morris, who donated the animal's skin. But out of fear of eliciting any more public criticism, officials have "altered" the video and omitted at least part of the interview.

The museum's spokesman, Larry St. Clair, would not comment.

The rhino is scheduled to be finished next week. And the exhibit, which will feature other African animals at a watering hole, will be finished later and displayed until Jan 31.

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