Jul 21, 2022 - News

PETA requests authorities investigate Austin Aquarium

Exterior of the Austin Aquarium
Photo: Larry D. Moore via Wikimedia Commons

Alleging cruelty to animals, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has filed requests with local, state and federal authorities to investigate a popular Austin attraction.

Driving the news: PETA claims in its requests that the Austin Aquarium has mistreated animals and endangered employees.

  • The basis for the requests, which were obtained by Axios, involves an "eyewitness" who was employed at the aquarium from March through mid-July of this year.

The North Austin attraction features cold water and tropical fish, as well as a rainforest vivarium and a parakeet aviary.

  • Guests are encouraged to hand-feed sharks, stingrays and birds. "Get up close and personal with our kangaroos and Lemurs, or pet one of our caiman lizards," per the aquarium's website.

Context: The animal rights group has previously filed investigation requests for other aquariums operated by the family that runs the Austin Aquarium.

  • Last year it asked federal authorities to yank the license of the San Antonio Aquarium, per the San Antonio Current.
  • Of note: The San Antonio facility is still operational.
  • PETA also dedicates a portion of its website to detailing what it claims are abuses at the Austin facility.

What they're saying: An investigation request from the animal rights group to the director of USDA's Animal Welfare Operations alleges that "ring-tailed lemurs were denied adequate veterinary care."

  • Another investigation request to the city of Austin's animal services officer says that the former employee at the aquarium "learned of at least 12 guests being bitten by lemurs and a kinkajou since April 15."
  • "Over the course of her employment at the facility, the eyewitness also documented over 30 instances of lemurs, kinkajous, a capybara, and otters biting guests and employees," the request alleges.
  • "Employees openly discussed a number of animal attacks on staff that required visits to emergency rooms, where employees purposefully lied to healthcare professionals about the cause of the injuries, at least in part to avoid generating a report to the Animal Protection Office," the request claims.

Other PETA requests for investigation were made on Tuesday with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The other side: Aquarium officials did not respond to interview requests on Wednesday.

Flashback: In 2013, Ammon Covino, who designed and built Austin Aquarium, was sentenced in Florida to a year and a day in prison for illegally shipping protected animals to another aquarium.

What's next: "We take all animal welfare complaints seriously and we plan to look into this," a spokesperson for the USDA told Axios.

  • Other city, state and federal authorities did not immediately respond on Wednesday to Axios' requests for comment.
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