HOUSTON- An animal right's group is threatening to sue Landry’s over the treatment of the four tigers kept at Houston’s Downtown Aquarium, but the company is also threatening a lawsuit of its own.
The rights group says the four white tigers haven't seen daylight in more than a decade, claiming the exhibit violates the Endangered Species Act.
"It's just common sense that tigers like these should not be living in a downtown enclosure without any access to direct sunlight without any access to the outdoors," said Kristen Schlemmer, a Houston attorney. "It defies common sense."
The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) is offering to find new homes for the tigers at no cost to Landry’s. Schlemmer believes the company should do the right thing and accept that offer.
Landry's has responded by saying such claims are false and manipulative.
"Landry's will not tolerate their libelous and slanderous conduct and will be filing a lawsuit against all such parties," written in an official statement from Steven L. Scheinthal, Landry's general counsel. "Our tigers receive the highest level of care and treatment and have always exhibited the signs of well-maintained animals."
Landry's maintains it is accredited, and says it will only consider moving the tigers if accreditation standards change. And if this were to happen, its attorneys said they won't pick any of the sanctuaries the ALDF suggests.
The company has yet to confirm whether the animals haven't been outside in 12 years. The USDA does routine animal care inspections at the Aquarium, and its last inspection in June indicated no problems.
The Downtown Aquarium responded to the claims below:
The Downtown Aquarium has been an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited institution since it opened its doors in 2003 and has served as an educational experience for thousands of school children.
According to AZA, the care and welfare of the tigers is clearly a priority at Downtown Aquarium in Houston. From the obvious attention to detail paid during the planning and development of the facility, to resources and support provided to every required daily nuance, the animals are thriving. The Zoological Association of America (ZAA) states, Downtown Aquarium Houston has met and exceeded the USDA standards, Texas requirements for the tigers and is accredited by the two major zoological trade associations in the United States, ZAA and AZA. The Downtown Aquarium Houston is committed to providing the best care for all of the animals within their habitats and ZAA fully supports their commitment to excellence in animal care and welfare.
Public information available from the USDA can be found here: https://acis.aphis.edc.usda.gov/ords/f?p=116:203:0::NO
Public information available from the AZA can be found here:
- Accreditation for Houston and Denver aquariums are valid through 2020: https://www.aza.org/current-accreditation-list#H
- Accreditation standards: https://www.aza.org/assets/2332/aza-accreditation-standards.pdf
“Any claim that the tigers have been deprived access to sunlight, fresh air, natural surfaces, and species appropriate environmental enrichment is false.” said James Prappas, Director of Animal Operations. The tigers receive 24-hour cycles of sunlight and darkness as well as 10-15 air changes per hour that is appropriate for this species. The exhibit space is comprised of many natural surfaces which include: variations in floor slopes, steps, ledges, vertical space for jumping/climbing, and elevated surfaces. There is an extensive enrichment program in place that allows for species appropriate substrates to be offered such as a swimming area, grass sod, wood shavings and natural trees/logs, as well as seasonal pumpkins and Christmas trees that are all veterinarian approved. “The Presence of an outdoor habitat at other facilities does not indicate any better quality of life for the tigers,” added veterinarian J. Gentry, DVM. “I have cared for these tigers for the past couple of years and find them to be in both exceptional mental and physical health. The Downtown Aquarium’s tigers are truly amazing creatures and the care they receive is exceptional.”
Both Prappas and Gentry agree that comparing wild tigers with captive tigers is equivalent to comparing feral cats to domesticated cats. Wild tigers are exposed to elements, diseases, injuries, habitat fragmentation, poaching, etc.; whereas the tigers at the Downtown Aquarium thrive in their specially designed environment that features safety, sanitation, protection from the elements, disease prevention, veterinary care, nutrition, and mental stimulation.
Lastly, the tigers further the conservation goals of AZA through education of the public about captive tigers. Downtown Aquarium is committed to supporting the conservation of the environment, educating its visitors on the importance of being respectful of the world in which we live, and complying with all AZA, ZAA, and governmental regulations. We recognize that AZA is in the process of changing their standards and if Downtown Aquarium cannot comply with the proposed revisions, the tigers will be relocated to another first class AZA, ZAA approved facility.