Why San Antonio Aquarium Keeps Racking Up USDA Citations

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The history of troubling animal welfare and public safety issues at San Antonio Aquarium in Texas is an ever-growing disgrace, prompting PETA supporters to take action for animals held there. Apparently run by convicted wildlife trafficker Ammon Covino, this shipwreck of a business has racked up multiple citations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) over its failure to meet the minimal care standards established by the federal Animal Welfare Act.

The citations given to San Antonio Aquarium are further proof that exploiting animals for entertainment is cruel. And it’s not just other species who are suffering there—human staff and visitors are at risk, too.

ring tailed lemurs confined at San Antonio Aquarium

San Antonio Aquarium Racks Up USDA Citations

The series of citations the USDA has slapped San Antonio Aquarium with over the years illustrates why this sordid facility must go animal-free. Alternatives to the aquarium’s current practices could include adding virtual reality displays and focusing on other amusement activities—like arcades and bounce houses—that don’t hurt animals. San Antonio Aquarium has yet to make the compassionate switch.

August 1, 2023: Cited! The USDA cited San Antonio Aquarium after an employee found a female African crested porcupine dead on July 28 in an enclosure with a male porcupine. Quills from the male were embedded in her upper body.

The agency issued the roadside zoo a critical repeat citation for failing to properly maintain enclosures to protect the animals. The inspection report stated that workers had separated the porcupines with a plywood wall due to incompatibility issues but that the female was still able to get into the male porcupine’s enclosure.

April 11, 2023: Cited! The feds found multiple enclosures at San Antonio Aquarium in disrepair and with injury risks, including the following:

  • Frayed rope in a red ruffed lemur enclosure that could entangle the animals
  • Splintered wood in a kangaroo and Patagonian cavy enclosure
  • Paint peeling, which would prevent proper sanitation, on the floor of a kinkajou enclosure

Patagonian cavies confined and lying down

July 20, 2022: Cited! San Antonio Aquarium didn’t have auxiliary ventilation for the rabbit enclosure or a contingency plan for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system failure. The HVAC wasn’t working properly, and the temperature near the rabbit enclosure rose to a sweltering 89 degrees—hot enough to risk heatstroke in the animals housed there. The feds also issued a citation to the aquarium for failing to house two juvenile kangaroos in a dedicated enclosure. The kangaroos hung in pouches on wall hooks in the animal-care staff office, which also had electrical cords, tools, and other supplies on the floor. These items posed a risk of injury to the animals.

November 4, 2020: Cited! San Antonio Aquarium failed to keep the shelter box for a woodchuck in good repair, which posed a risk of injury to the animal.

July 22, 2019: Cited! San Antonio Aquarium failed to have an effective barrier for an enclosure confining an armadillo and an African crested porcupine.

porcupine confined at San Antonio Aquarium

October 24, 2018: Cited! Several incidents occurred in which lemurs bit or scratched customers during interactive encounters. A lemur scratched a boy’s arm and then “jumped on [his] head, grabbing him aggressively.”

red ruffed lemur confined and looking up

San Antonio Aquarium Was Shut Down—Twice

In addition to issuing the above citations, Texas authorities have even shut down San Antonio Aquarium—on two separate occasions—before letting it reopen.

  • March 21, 2020: Police reportedly shut down San Antonio Aquarium after the owner refused to close during the COVID-19 pandemic. Local officials ordered the facility to close immediately after police arrived on March 21. Visitors and non-essential employees were eventually removed.
  • November 28, 2018: The Leon Valley Fire Department reportedly had San Antonio Aquarium evacuated and shut down after multiple safety hazards were discovered during a routine fire inspection. The aquarium reopened on December 8, 2018.

tortoise attempting to climb out of confinement at San Antonio Aquarium

The Notorious Covino Family

The Covinos are notorious for locking animals up in shockingly tiny exhibits. Although Burmese pythons can reach up to 23 feet in length, San Antonio Aquarium confines them to exhibits too small for them to stretch out fully. Experts stress that a snake’s opportunity to engage in natural behavior—such as stretching out to their full length—is “essential and fundamental to snake health and welfare.” Blatantly risking animals’ lives by continually using them as entertainment props and then shutting them away in inadequate enclosures is an egregious example of speciesism.

boa confined at San Antonio Aquarium

In addition to San Antonio Aquarium, Ammon Covino evidently runs the sleazy Austin Aquarium—which PETA investigated in 2022—and the Houston Interactive Aquarium & Animal Preserve. At Austin Aquarium, PETA’s undercover investigation found injured animals left to languish without veterinary care, workers talking about animals they had abandoned, and staff admitting to lying to medical professionals about animal bites.

The law prohibits Covino from holding a USDA exhibitor’s license because of his criminal history, but he appears to have continued his involvement in these sordid aquariums by using his wife’s name on official paperwork.

Covino’s brother, Vince, owns the disreputable roadside aquarium chain SeaQuest. The siblings have collaborated on other shady aquariums, including the now-defunct Portland Aquarium. The greedy Covino family must stop perpetually exploiting living, feeling beings.

conure bird with feather loss confined at San Antonio Aquarium

How You Can Help Get San Antonio Aquarium to Go Animal-Free

Respect animals by never visiting roadside zoos or other exploitative exhibits—and remember: Animals and humans get hurt at these sordid hellholes. Fortunately, PETA supporters like you are leading the way by taking action to urge San Antonio Aquarium to go animal-free. PETA is calling on everyone to shun this shady establishment and any other abusive facility.

Meanwhile, help convince the Covinos to focus on animal-free entertainment and transfer the animals at San Antonio Aquarium to reputable facilities:

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