HOUSTON – The Houston Aquarium and Landry's Inc. faces a lawsuit over their allegedly inhumane treatment of the tigers at the facility.

The plaintiff's attorney who filed the lawsuit, Kristen Schlemmer of Irvine & Conner in Houston, told The Southeast Texas Record the four tigers have not been outside for more than 13 years and they are housed in a small metal cage in violation of the Endangered Species Act. 

The complaint was filed on Sep. 26 and depicts the conditions the tigers are kept in, noting “Their only sources of sunlight are small windows and skylights; the floor they walk on is hard and unyielding. These conditions are far out of line with generally accepted practices in the zoo world; are not contemplated, let alone sanctioned, by the Animal Welfare Act; and have actually injured the tigers and significantly disrupted their normal behavioral patterns.” 

Cheryl Conley v. Houston Aquarium and Landry’s Inc. was filed in the Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas. The plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.

According to the complaint, the controversy goes back to 2016, when Cheryl Conley notified the Houston Aquarium of her intention to sue it for alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act in regard to the tigers. The defendants sued her and her attorney for defamation. The 334th Judicial Court for Harris County dismissed that case.

The plaintiff in the 2017 case, Conley, “...is passionate about animal welfare and particularly drawn to tigers,” as the complaint explains, and it notes “Ms. Conley has served on the boards of local wildlife organizations for more than 10 years and cares for injured animals at her house as a licensed rehabilitator for the state of Texas.”

Kristen Schlemmer, Conley’s attorney, would like to see the tiger exhibit at the Houston Aquarium go away. The Aquarium has not offered to settle the case, and she explains, “If the Downtown Aquarium does not commit to building a suitable habitat for the tigers, we'll ask the court to send it to trial.”

Schlemmer points out that there are sanctuaries which would house the tigers more humanely.

“Lions, Tigers, and Bears Sanctuary in Alpine, California and the Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota have agreed to give Nero, Marina, Coral and Reef homes with access to the outdoors and sufficient space to roam. Both sanctuaries are accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and the American Sanctuary Association. These accreditation organizations set exceptionally high standards of care for sanctuaries across the country and throughout the world to ensure that the physiological and psychological needs of rescued animals are met,” Schlemmer said.

Public opinion is on the side of the plaintiff, Schlemmer notes.

“Over 116,000 people have signed a petition asking the Downtown Aquarium to move their four tigers to an accredited sanctuary. A similar petition has asked the Downtown Aquarium's Denver location to do the same and has received more than 170,000 signatures. The message is clear: These tigers deserve better.”

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Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas

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