Federal Complaint Challenges Austin Aquarium’s Animal Encounters Over Danger to the Public

PETA Asks FTC to Investigate Facility for Unfair Trade Practices

For Immediate Release:
December 5, 2022

David Perle 202-483-7382

Austin, Texas – This morning, PETA submitted a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requesting that the agency investigate Austin Aquarium—which is apparently run by convicted wildlife trafficker Ammon Covino—for unfair business practices, noting that members of the public, including children, have been bitten and injured at the aquarium, which continues to market hands-on encounters with animals as safe, family-friendly entertainment.

PETA’s complaint points out that a lemur at the aquarium bit a 17-year-old and another guest during separate interactions, prompting each to seek medical treatment. The facility also received critical citations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which led to an official warning for alleged violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, over two other incidents in which a lemur bit a 10-year-old’s hand during an interaction and a kinkajou bit a boy’s hand, causing an injury that required medical attention.

“Austin Aquarium’s animal encounters have caused significant physical injury to an unsuspecting public, thereby violating the FTC Act’s prohibition on unfair trade practices,” says PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Michelle Sinnott. “PETA is calling on the government to act before another person is wounded or worse at this operation, which is a ticking time bomb.”

PETA’s complaint follows the group’s undercover investigation into Austin Aquarium, which documented a staff member’s comment “Guests usually get it bad whenever they get bit by a kinkajou.” During the four-month period of the investigation, there were 34 incidents in which animals—including lemurs, kinkajous, otters, and a capybara—scratched, bit, or otherwise injured guests or employees. According to one worker, after a lemur bit a child with a cochlear implant, Covino instructed staff, “No more retarded kids in lemurs.” Covino is prohibited from holding a USDA exhibitor’s license because of his criminal history but appears to have continued his involvement in operating Austin Aquarium by using his wife’s name on official paperwork.

Even though management knows that animal attacks must be reported to authorities, PETA’s undercover investigator was told never to document them. The group’s investigation also revealed an aquarium employee’s reported attempt to crush a rat to death with a cinderblock, a large number of missing snakes, injured animals left to languish without veterinary care, abandoned animals, and other horrors.

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment” and which opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview— also submitted an FTC complaint over animal encounters at SeaQuest Fort Worth, which is run by Ammon Covino’s brother, Vince.

For more information on PETA’s investigative newsgathering and reporting, please visit PETA.org or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind