Animal Legal Defense Fund Sues Landry’s Inc. for Endangered Species Act Violations

Posted on September 26, 2017

Four tigers are always indoors, suffer substandard conditions

Contact: Natalia Lima, nlima@aldf.org, 201-679-7088

HOUSTON– Today the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed suit against Houston’s Downtown Aquarium and Landry’s Inc., representing Houston-area resident Cheryl Conley, alleging violations of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) due to the treatment of four tigers, who are kept in substandard conditions at the Aquarium.

The tigers at the heart of the case—Nero, Marina, Coral and Reef—have been housed indoors at the Downtown Aquarium for more than 13 years without adequate access to sunlight, fresh air or natural surfaces. These living conditions are inadequate for tigers and violate the ESA, which has protected tigers since 1970.

“These tigers have spent over a decade confined to small spaces—with cement and stone flooring. Deprived of walking on dirt and grass, breathing fresh air, and feeling the sun’s warmth,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “The cages provided in no way mimic a tiger’s natural environment—which makes many of their natural behaviors—like running, swimming or engaging in stalking or hunting behaviors –impossible.”

At the Downtown Aquarium, the tigers’ entire world is limited to a few hundred square feet. The tigers divide all their time between a small metal cage outside of the public’s view and a public concrete viewing area. Their only sources of sunlight are small windows and skylights; the floor they walk on is hard and unyielding. The tigers lack the opportunity to engage in the full range of their natural behaviors—including solidarity. In the wild, tigers cover a range of up to 40 square miles and can be extremely territorial.

The tigers’ living conditions starkly contrast with the decades-long trend to place captive tigers in more natural habitats. Of the more than 100 facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that house tigers in the United States, only one other facility does not have an outdoor exhibit for the tigers: the Downtown Aquarium in Denver, also owned by Landry’s.

This lawsuit comes after the Animal Legal Defense Fund previously served Landry’s with a notice of intent to sue, offering to forego the lawsuit if the company accepted the group’s offer to rehome the tigers to a reputable sanctuary at no cost to Landry’s. Instead, Landry’s Inc. and the Downtown Aquarium Inc. filed their own lawsuit claiming the Animal Legal Defense Fund defamed Landry’s by publicly commenting on the long-controversial mistreatment of the tigers. In a victory for free speech, the Animal Legal Defense Fund obtained a dismissal of that suit, and an award of more than $600,000 in sanctions and attorneys’ fees against Landry’s.

“The Downtown Aquarium and Landry’s Inc. tried to intimidate and silence us with a baseless lawsuit, but we are committed to holding them accountable to the law,” says Wells.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund thanks the Houston law firm Irvine & Conner PLLC for providing pro bono representation in the case.


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