For Immediate Release:
July 21, 2022
Moira Colley 202-483-7382
Austin, Texas – A new PETA eyewitness investigation into the Austin Aquarium, an indoor petting zoo and strip mall aquarium that sells “encounters” with wild animals, shows stressed otters and lemurs languishing in barren enclosures, staff discussing killing an animal with a rock, and animals left to suffer without veterinary care, including an ailing iguana who was denied veterinary care because he was “just” a reptile. The iguana, named Igor, was put outside in a cage with no heat lamp while staff waited for him to die—which took three days. PETA’s video footage shows staff losing a large number of snakes, staff joking about letting hundreds of lizards loose outside, and animals routinely biting and injuring staff and guests—after which facility workers covered up multiple incidents. Photos are available here, and broadcast-quality footage is available here.
PETA has submitted evidence of apparent cruelty to animals, disregard for worker safety, wildlife abandonment, and other failings to the City of Austin Animal Protection office, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration , and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). PETA is seeking investigations into apparent violations of animal protection, worker safety, and wildlife laws—and the revocation of the aquarium’s federal license to exhibit regulated animals.
“The Austin Aquarium is a house of horrors, where animals are abandoned to die, suffer in barren enclosures, and bite staff and visitors out of frustration,” says PETA Foundation Associate Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Michelle Sinnott. “PETA is calling on the authorities to crack down on this shady operation and urging everyone to stay a mile away.”
PETA’s investigator also learned that Ammon Covino, who is prohibited from holding a USDA exhibitor’s license as a result of a past wildlife trafficking conviction, is directing day-to-day operations at the facility—rather than his wife, the operation’s registered licensee. According to employees, when Covino thought the aquarium had “too many” anole lizards, workers were instructed to abandon hundreds of them inside and outside the building. One worker described using a large rock to kill a lizard who was dying. A blue iguana was denied veterinary care for a suspected broken leg because the Covinos reportedly deemed an X-ray “too expensive,” even though staff estimated that the facility was bringing in approximately $60,000 per day at the time. Staff also said that venomous vine snakes “go missing all the time” and that dozens had escaped since March.
PETA’s investigator documented more than 20 recent incidents in which workers were bitten by lemurs, kinkajous, and otters. To prevent the bites from being reported to authorities, workers admitted that they lie when seeking medical attention, for instance claiming to have been bitten by a stray cat. A manager stated that Covino eliminated liability waivers because they slowed down the business, and PETA’s investigator was instructed not to document incidents of animals’ biting the public—which, according to a manager, happens “probably … once a week.” When a lemur started regularly jumping at and grabbing guests, the aquarium simply shortened the duration of the encounters. And according to a worker, after a child with a cochlear implant was bitten by a lemur, Covino instructed staff, “No more retarded kids in lemurs, for f**** sake.”
PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. For more information about PETA’s investigative newsgathering and reporting, please visit PETA.org or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.