Will the Akron Zoo’s New Exhibit Include Cruel Touch Tanks—or Virtual Reality?

PETA Calls for Replacement of ‘Journey to the Reef’ Exhibit to Spare Sensitive Aquatic Animals Harassment and Possible Death

For Immediate Release:
October 19, 2016

Megan Wiltsie 202-483-7382

Akron, Ohio

The Akron Zoo’s “Journey to the Reef” exhibit is closing in November—and in a letter sent this morning, PETA urged the zoo’s president and CEO, Doug Piekarz, not to replace the exhibit’s touch tank and to entice visitors with augmented reality or other interactive displays instead.

In the letter, PETA notes that touch tanks confine wild animals to shallow aquariums or containers, where they are harassed by humans who grope at them and pollute the water with bacteria. Children have been bitten by stingrays in these tanks, and dozens of animals have died as a result of tank malfunctions, including 21 at the John Ball Zoo earlier this year.

“Touch tanks only teach children that wild animals are props to be handled and harassed rather than respected,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. “PETA is encouraging the Akron Zoo to ditch the cruel and deadly touch tanks in favor of immersive virtual reality that will captivate socially conscious parents and their children.”

PETA’s motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment.” For more information, please visit PETA.org.

PETA’s letter to Akron Zoo President and CEO Doug Piekarz follows.

October 19, 2016

Doug Piekarz

President and CEO

The Akron Zoo

Dear Mr. Piekarz,

I am writing on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and our more than 5 million members and supporters worldwide. As Journey to the Reef comes to a close, we urge you to replace the exhibit with cutting-edge non-animal exhibits and ensure that for the animals in your touch tanks, this is more than just a short reprieve. Encouraging visitors to harass and handle captive animals is the antithesis of fostering respect, so announcing a permanent end to your touch tanks will surely appeal to socially conscious millennials and their children at a time when even Ringling Bros. circus has taken elephants off the road and SeaWorld has announced an end to its orca-breeding program.

At best, touch tanks confine wild animals—who prefer to spend their time near the bottom of the ocean—to a shallow artificial environment so that they can be harassed by humans with groping hands that dirty the water and pollute it with bacteria. At worst, touch tanks are death traps for the animals. They caused the deaths of 21 animals from lack of oxygen at the John Ball Zoo this year. Malfunctioning touch tanks also killed 54 rays at the Brookfield Zoo, 41 at the Calgary Zoo, 18 at California’s Fresno Chaffee Zoo, 11 at the National Zoo, and likely many more. They can also be dangerous to humans. For instance, earlier this month, a child was taken to the hospital after being bitten on the hand by a stingray at the Wildlife World Zoo and Aquarium.

When you first took over the Akron Zoo, you indicated that you would “[b]oldly go where no one has gone before,” so we trust that you’ll steer the zoo away from antiquated and cruel touch tanks and instead use your tenure as an opportunity to separate your zoo from the pack with immersive virtual reality, augmented reality, or other captivating interactive exhibits to give both the public and animals what they want and deserve. Innovative companies such as INDE have already been working with zoos to do just that.


John Di Leonardo, M.S.
Animals in Entertainment Campaigner
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

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