Animal cruelty trial begins for manager after sloth burned at SeaQuest

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LITTLETON, Colo. -- The animal cruelty trial involving a woman accused of neglecting a sloth that twice burned its face on a heat lamp has begun in Jefferson County.

Ashleigh Belfiore is facing a misdemeanor charge. She’s accused of neglecting a sloth and failing to seek proper veterinary care after the animal suffered injuries inside its enclosure at SeaQuest, a mall-based, interactive animal facility and aquarium in Littleton.

Belfiore was responsible for managing mammals and reptiles at the facility in 2018, when the sloth, named Flash, burned its face twice.

According to Colorado Department of Natural Resources Division of Parks & Wildlife records, the sloth suffered swelling on its nose after burning itself on a heat lamp in October. In November, documents show the sloth was burned more severely on the lamp.

“The second burn caused swelling of the sloth’s entire face including around the eyes, nose, the mouth, and the lips. Multiple raw areas and redness were observed on the face with scabbing, sloughing of the skin, and a couple of the wounds were oozing,” according to the CPW case report.

An expert veterinarian, Dr. Jena Questen, testified that the animal healed without incident. She said she believed the animal was appropriately housed and cared for.

“I would not be associated or affiliated with this organization in anyway if I felt they were jeopardizing animals at any time,” said Questen.

Neither Belfiore nor her defense attorney would speak to FOX31 on camera, but her defense attorney Jessica Johnson, told the jury Belfiore had dedicated her life to caring for animals and worked as part of a team to make decisions about an animal’s care.

“She treated and cared for the sloth,” said Johnson. “Flash healed.”

Johnson also told the jury that the sloth had lived in an enclosure that was approved for safety.

The incident involving the sloth was one of several incidents that pushed CPW to suspend its license for two years. As a result, SeaQuest may not apply for any special license issued by CPW for that period and had to remove various exotic species to other facilities.

According Travis Duncan, a spokesperson for CPW, the facility removed all CPW regulated species as a result of the suspension.

Previous Problem Solvers investigations found other questionable treatment of animals at SeaQuest including reports of filthy tanks an dirty exhibits, which SeaQuest said it later worked to correct.

In May, the company received a written warning for unlawfully possessing a softshell turtle.

“For the most part, we’ve had a lot of learning moments (in Colorado),” said Elsa MacDonald, the vice president of marketing and public relations for SeaQuest. “That’s definitely had the most questions and learning processes based on what’s allowed.”

She said the company has made a lot of corrections and is committed to working with authorities at the local, regional, and state level to fix things.

“We want to be super responsive,” she said.

MacDonald said SeaQuest in Littleton replaced the sloth, otters, and some fish with other animals with which the public can interact. The company brought in Savannah Cats and Asian water monitors.

MacDonald said Belfiore is a “well regarded member of our team.” Her trial is expected to last two days.

-- Lori Jane Gliha wrote this report

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