Why Should You Avoid Houston Interactive Aquarium? The List of Reasons Is Growing

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5 min read

Animals at Houston Interactive Aquarium & Animal Preserve have endured malnourishment, freezing temperatures, and distressing, forced contact with the public, just so this exploitative facility could make a buck. PETA is calling on everyone to shun this shoddy petting zoo and condemn its mistreatment of animals.

A Cruel Family Affair

Houston Interactive Aquarium is closely tied to Ammon Covino, who has spent time in federal prison for conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking. Although he can’t legally obtain a federal exhibitor’s license, Houston Interactive Aquarium has posted more than 150 videos of him spearheading the development and construction of the facility.

Houston Interactive Aquarium Animal Preserve kangaroo laying ground

Meanwhile, his brother, Vince Covino, owns the disreputable roadside aquarium chain SeaQuest. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cited SeaQuest locations for the drowning death of a wallaby, hitting otters with a metal bowl, and incidents in which a child was bitten by a capybara and an adult was bitten by a sloth. The business was also criminally convicted for unlawfully purchasing wildlife in Colorado.

Houston Interactive Aquarium received an official warning from the USDA on June 27, 2022.

This important step followed six citations for the facility’s failure to meet the minimum care standards of the federal Animal Welfare Act. A USDA inspection report included citations for the following incidents:

  • A lemur was left shivering in an unheated outdoor enclosure in 33-degree weather.
  • Ten visitors—including children—were allowed to interact with kangaroos while a staff attendant was busy with another animal.
  • A capybara was left with no bedding on a gap-riddled, draft-prone wooden floor from which heat was escaping.
  • A young giraffe named Lehi was fed an inappropriate diet that led to a life-threatening neurological condition. Although this wasn’t addressed in the USDA citation, it’s worth noting that giraffes are social animals, yet Lehi was taken from his family and is being kept alone.

A later USDA inspection report, released to the public in January 2023, reveals another set of failures by this infamous Covino family–owned roadside zoo.

During the inspection, the USDA found that the facility had failed to inform its attending veterinarian of a ground squirrel’s skin condition, even though the animal had been placed in isolation the previous day. Staff let the squirrel’s condition go untreated for two days before notifying a veterinarian. The facility also failed to take proper care of its resident dog, and the business lacked a complete contingency plan in case of an emergency or disaster.

A USDA inspector was nearly burned by metal elements heated to more than 140 degrees in the aquarium’s shoddy otter enclosure. The facility even tried, unsuccessfully, to appeal the agency’s order to fix them.

This round of citations showed yet again that the Covinos can’t be trusted to meet even the minimum standards of animal care at their facilities.

On September 12, 2023, the USDA inspected and cited Houston Interactive Aquarium yet again, this time for failing to have an employee present at its camel and giraffe enclosures.

This lack of staffing meant that members of the public could have had direct, unsupervised contact with the animals in these enclosures. An inspector stated that not having employees present during contact with customers posed “a significant risk to the health and well-being of both the animals and the public.”

A February 12, 2024, USDA inspection report revealed that Houston Interactive Aquarium received yet another critical citation after 40 budgerigars (aka “common parakeets”) escaped through a tear in the mesh of an enclosure and were never recovered.

The birds, native to Australia, would have struggled to survive a subsequent cold snap in Houston—during which temperatures dropped below freezing—and likely perished.

budgie (parakeet) aviary at Houston Interactive Aquarium

Every parakeet is a unique individual with distinct traits and behavior, including affectionate gestures, which underscores the importance of respecting their intrinsic needs. In their natural habitat, these birds live in giant flocks, fly for miles, talk and sing to one another, protect each other, and enjoy puzzles.

Interactive aviaries, where visitors can enter and feed the birds, often fall short in providing parakeets with adequate space, perches, and enrichment to allow them to engage in normal, natural behavior. Severely crowded conditions make it challenging for staff to monitor the health, welfare, and safety of the birds, particularly during interactions with the public.

Houston Interactive Aquarium has shown time and again that it can’t or won’t provide even the basic minimum standard of care for the animals it confines and exploits. PETA is calling on everyone to avoid this facility and other similarly seedy operations as though lives depend on it—because they do.

In less than three years, the facility has received 17 citations—three critical and four repeat—as well as an official warning from the USDA.

Profit-hungry animal exhibitors rarely change their tune after earning these dishonors.

What You Can Do for Animals at Houston Interactive Aquarium

Like the Covinos’ other cruel aquarium ventures, Houston Interactive Aquarium is premised on encouraging children to hold, poke, and prod sensitive animals who would normally shun humans. Treating animals as nothing more than props for show-and-tell events is a form of speciesism—the misguided belief that humans are more important than other animals.

Since not even a criminal wildlife-trafficking conviction is enough to persuade the USDA to do its job and prevent another Covino aquarium from exploiting animals, it’s up to kind people like you to speak up for them and let Houston Interactive Aquarium know you won’t tolerate animal exploitation and abuse:

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