For Immediate Release:
April 29, 2021
David Perle 202-483-7382
Houston – Since convicted wildlife traffickers Ammon Covino and Chris Conk appear to be heavily involved in opening the Houston Interactive Aquarium & Animal Preserve, PETA dispatched a letter this morning to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with a tip that the business has been illegally exhibiting animals to the public—including through hands-on encounters with black and white ruffed lemurs and other endangered wildlife—without a federal exhibitor’s license.
It also appears that Covino, who is prohibited from holding a USDA exhibitor’s license because of his criminal history, continues to be involved in similar businesses in Austin and San Antonio while using his wife’s name for official paperwork—the same type of actions that got him sent back to prison in 2016 for parole violations related to his prior conviction. PETA is calling on the USDA not only to deny any permit applications for the Houston “interactive” aquarium but also to revoke the permits for the Austin and San Antonio facilities.
“This criminal must not be allowed to set up another paperwork-fudging, animal-exploiting petting zoo,” says PETA Foundation Associate Director and Counsel of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Michelle Sinnott. “PETA is calling on the USDA to pull the licenses for every business that he has his hands in.”
The notorious Covino family has faced scrutiny across the country from the public, authorities, visitors, and employees alike, including for the following incidents in Texas:
- Last March, police found the San Antonio Aquarium operating in violation of the state’s shutdown order and ordered the manager to close the facility immediately. An hour later, police found the aquarium still operating and physically removed visitors and nonessential employees from the building.
- In 2019, the parents of a 10-year-old girl who was allegedly bitten by a lemur filed a lawsuit against the Austin Aquarium, and the USDA cited the business for failing to consult an attending veterinarian in order to determine the cause of ear problems exhibited by kangaroos prior to treating them.
- In 2018, the USDA found that half of the lemurs used in public encounters at the San Antonio Aquarium had bitten or scratched members of the public.
PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. For more information, please visit PETA.org or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.