Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is used to getting under people’s skin.

But what he probably thought was a harmless joke (or a deliberate poke at the left) enraged animal rights advocates Wednesday night when he tweeted, and posted on Facebook, a photo of him and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) kneeling beside a tiger skin rug.

Cruz’s spokeswoman Catharine Frazier says he was kidding, and had no intention of bringing the tiger pelt back to Washington. He had hosted a fundraiser in his home state for Lee and “they ran across it in Houston and took a picture.” She could not say whether it was real.

Tigers are an endangered species. The mere act of making light of a skinned tiger set off an angry torrent of tweets and posts, with one tweeter suggesting the tiger should come alive and eat Cruz.*

Animal advocates sprung with catlike speed to condemn the senators.

“If the rug is real, Ted Cruz’s use of it reduces a majestic once-living being to a doormat,” PETA said in an “immediate release.” “Gunning down wildlife in order to make umbrella stands, rugs, and ornaments is frowned upon in the 21st century, as most people have come to learn from and be awe-inspired by the lives, intelligence, and social make-up of other living beings.”

And Bernie Unti, senior policy adviser at the Humane Society of the United States, said, “We fear it’s real, but real or fake, it sends a bad message to the public at a time when we are trying to save the world’s tigers from extinction.”

So we can go ahead and assume Cruz lost the animal rights vote?

*The Loop does not condone or endorse violence.

UPDATE: Frazier, Cruz’s spokeswoman, wrote to us that the office is not defensive of the picture.

“It’s unfortunate the same outrage isn’t displayed by the left when it comes to defending the lives of hundreds of thousands of unborn babies aborted every year,” she said in an email.