Cease-and-desist issued for SeaQuest’s new bird exhibit

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. -- A new interactive aviary inside a Littleton-area mall has been ordered to shut down its operations until it can pass a Pet Animal Care and Facilities Act inspection.

State inspectors called it a “danger” to the birds and have flunked the Southwest Plaza SeaQuest for the third time since June 14.

Last week, the FOX31 Problem Solvers went undercover to expose seemingly unsafe and unsanitary conditions at a mall-based exhibit.

After seeing our pair of hidden camera investigations, the Colorado Department of Agriculture, which has authority over safety and welfare of birds, sent inspectors back inside the facility.

State Ag inspectors called SeaQuest’s response to its concerns, “solutions which are not sustainable.”

On Monday, records show SeaQuest was issued a cease and desist order; greatly limiting its ability to operate its most popular attraction.

The interactive bird cage can still technically remain open to the public, but staff must limit the number of overall birds at the mall to thirty or less.

SeaQuest may appeal its notice of denial for a license, per Colorado law.

State statute allows “hobby shelters or breeders” to display a smaller number of birds without a license, which could be an option for SeaQuest to continue to display birds.

On Wednesday last week, FOX31 shared a video of a SeaQuest employee scattering birds by swatting at them.

Ag inspectors had previously cited the operation as a “potentially dangerous situation,” where birds could easily get stepped on -- while noting the “facility (was ) not sanitizing bird enclosures.”

SeaQuest CEO Vince Covino, in his first interview about the troubled exhibit, denies any animal mistreatment.

“No birds were harmed. No birds were swatted at. He was making loud noises. And if you watch the video he was not making contact with any of those birds,” Covino said.

Covino said the employee has been re-trained in correct procedures for keeping birds off the floor while they are picking up scraps of food given to them by small groups of customers.

He also said he believes the animals at SeaQuest Colorado are “healthy and happy” and his staff is working hard to correct its animal welfare violations.

“We’ll continue to have an ongoing and open relationship with the State and local authorities,” said Covino. “Out of very long list of requirements, there were things here and there that they felt we could upgrade. Other cities and states have not required those things, but to the State of Colorado’s credit, they’ve asked us to raise the bar in several areas and we’ve done so and complied.”

The mammals such as the Capybara and slouth, snakes, other aquatic life on display are unaffected by the cease and desist because those animals are inspected by other state and federal agencies.

Covino, during an interview from Idaho, said Friday he vows to get up to speed on every rule and regulation.

Using hidden cameras, FOX31 raised questions about the care and oversight of animals outside the bird exhibit as well.

Video shows children grabbing at shark tails and a lizard escaped from its aquarium. In addition, video shows some filthy-looking exhibits and murky water.

Covino responded, “No animals were at risk. No animals were ever in that exhibit. Esthetically do I like it? No. But did we ever put any animals in harms way? No we didn’t.”

Covino said he’s trying to offer a one-of-a-kind educational opportunity which raises awareness and understanding of how important animals are to this planet.

“They are truly in an ideal environment for them to thrive. The life expectancies are extended. These animals, again, you go in there, its undeniable. When you see the connection taking place between these animals and the guests – it’s pretty self-evidence these animals are in a very healthy and happy environment.,” Covino said.

The FOX31 interview with Covino was conducted before the issuance of the cease-and-desist order.

SeaQuest released a statement on Monday.

"We have complied with everything all regulators have asked of us and are currently in full compliance. Today it was requested, after another assessment of our facility, that we need to lower the number of birds we have on site to a max of 30. We immediately complied and are currently in full compliance with no outstanding requirements. All aviaries, bird shows and all other interactions remain open to guests without interruption.  To comply with today's request, we removed one small species of birds - the parakeets. In place of the parakeet aviaries, guests can feed and interact safely with toucans, macaws, umbrella cockatoos, and other more exotic birds.”

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