Houston’s Downtown Aquarium Sued for Violations of the Endangered Species Act

Today, on behalf of their client Cheryl Conley, Irvine & Conner and the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a federal lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act against Landry’s Downtown Aquarium, a restaurant and amusement park complex located on the edge of Downtown Houston. The lawsuit challenges the living conditions of four tigers who have been at the Aquarium since 2004 and who, by the Aquarium’s own admission, have not been outside for more than 13 years.

Since the 1970s, zoos worldwide have made dramatic changes to big cat exhibits, reflecting increasing concern about the well-being and needs of the species they house. As a result of these changes, zoos have moved large cats like tigers from tight, prison-like cages, lacking variety or opportunities for stimulation, to naturalistic outdoor habitats, which encourage the captive cats to express a broader range of behaviors more comparable to those typical of their relatives in the wild.

Despite these trends, Landry’s Downtown Aquarium in Houston continues to house four tigers—named Nero, Marina, Coral, and Reef—in an entirely indoor, concrete and metal habitat that resembles zoo exhibits of decades long past. Attorney Kristen Schlemmer says, “We put the Downtown Aquarium on notice a year ago that they would face a lawsuit if they did not give their tigers outdoor access, either by moving them to a sanctuary or upgrading their exhibit. Despite having ample time, the Downtown Aquarium seems to have done nothing. These tigers deserve better.”

Today’s lawsuit relies on the federal Endangered Species Act, which, for nearly fifty years, has protected all tigers, including captive tigers, from unauthorized “takes,” harms, and harassment. In addition to identifying the lack of outdoor access, the lawsuit alleges the tigers do not have access to direct sunlight, fresh air, or natural surfaces and lack sufficient room to roam and asks the Court to declare these conditions violate the Act and enjoin the Aquarium from further violations.

Download a copy of the complaint here.