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SeaQuest Littleton​

SeaQuest Littleton has been ordered by the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife to remove hundreds of animals after the state suspended its license for two years. The inspectors concluded that Southwest Plaza Mall’s aquarium and zoo demonstrated a “negligent and intentional disregard for human safety and the wildlife it houses,” according to the decision. According to a CPW investigation, staff failed to report numerous injuries to visitors and animals, and officials repeatedly failed to comply with inspectors’ orders to improve conditions.


It will be necessary for the facility to remove about two dozen fish, birds, and mammals that fall under the definition of wildlife as used by the CPW, or about 200 animals in all, said agency spokesman Jason Clay. Clay stressed the importance of animal care. “It’s one of our missions to ensure the protection of our natural resources, including wildlife, and the safety of the public around animals.” The ruling, issued on April 1, gives SeaQuest 60 days to remove animals that fall under the facility’s state zoological license.


People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an organization that advocates for the ethical treatment of animals, first published this ruling after receiving it as a result of an open records request. It is suing the city to challenge its issuance of a zoning permit for a proposed new SeaQuest aquarium there, according to a news release. The affected animals have already been sent to SeaQuest’s other locations in other states, said Elsa MacDonald, SeaQuest’s vice president of marketing.


SeaQuest Littleton plans to stay open, MacDonald said, and has already replaced the removed animals with others that don’t fall under the CPW licensing umbrella. “We’re making changes to ensure a happy, fun experience,” MacDonald said. CPW inspectors have not yet confirmed that the animals have been removed, Clay said. CPW’s concerns with SeaQuest Littleton date back to the facility’s opening in spring 2018, according to the department’s ruling.


A representative from SeaQuest Littleton called CPW in January 2018 to inform the agency of their planned opening and was told that obtaining a license for such a facility could take months and required proof that the animals would be properly cared for. No license was issued, but two months later, CPW personnel learned about the facility opening from a news article.


The facility was exhibiting hundreds of exotic species, investigators found. Management also did not inform Jefferson County officials that the facility would house numerous animals that would interact with visitors. One manager was found to be keeping a two-toed sloth and two capybaras in her house and later moved the animals to SeaQuest in violation of state order.


The facility was issued a cease and desist order by the Colorado Department of Agriculture for numerous violations including exhibiting birds in overcrowded cages in July 2018, according to the ruling, but SeaQuest staff did not inform the CPW of the order as required by law. Staff also failed to report the death of an Australian kookaburra bird in August 2018, according to the ruling.


In September 2018, a newly hired manager informed CPW that he found numerous unreported injuries to visitors in company files, including animal bites. Staff also failed to report a sloth that burned itself on a heat lamp in October 2018, investigators found. They also failed to report when the sloth burned itself more severely on the same heat lamp weeks later.


Upon learning of the injuries, “SeaQuest staff misled investigators in reporting that a veterinarian had been consulted, with turned out to be false,” the ruling found. The sloth has since been moved to SeaQuest’s newly-opened Minnesota location, MacDonald said. “Slash is doing awesome, and doing a great job of interacting with customers,” MacDonald said of the sloth. MacDonald chalked up the issues to the misunderstanding of state rules and regulations. “In terms of those incidents and injuries, when you consider the hundreds of thousands of people who flow through the facility, a lot of those were relatively minor,” MacDonald said. “Everything is treated equally and everything is reported.”


On the company’s website, SeaQuest Littleton is listed as one of seven locations across the country. The company plans to open three additional locations shortly. According to news reports, other chain locations have also been the subject of numerous violations and protests. 


SeaQuest in Littleton offers guests the chance to get up close and personal with a variety of animals, according to its website. Guests can snorkel in a large pool with stingrays, for example, or feed a variety of animals. MacDonald said the facility is going strong and there are still many animals for guests to interact with.

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