JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. -- Managers for an interactive animal aquarium in Jefferson County say the facility has made several improvements since receiving state penalty assessments for violations related to animal welfare and licensing regulations.
“We’re definitely doing better,” said Elsa MacDonald, the vice president of marketing for SeaQuest. “We have daily checks. We have quarterly checks. We have monthly checks. We have a lot of inspections in place that we do to be able to pre-empt a lot of the issues that you may have heard of at the start.”
The FOX31 Problems Solvers first reported on problems at SeaQuest's Southwest Plaza location in 2018 when our undercover team discovered grimy aquatic tanks and saw footage of an employee shooing birds in their enclosure with a dustpan.
The state also reprimanded the facility for possessing certain exotic animals prior to having the proper license, and for exhibiting too many birds in one enclosure.
The FOX 31 Problem Solvers later discovered an employee kept the extra birds in his home before giving them away in a public parking lot after the state issued a cease and desist order to the indoor aviary.
“We had a different general manager at that time, and so when we were told that the birds had to be removed, that was the course of action that was decided to be taken,” said MacDonald. “That was not something that we would do or that we condone.”
She said the former general manager and bird and reptile manager were both terminated from SeaQuest after that incident.
In May 2019, the state suspended the facility’s license to possess particular exotic animals due to violations like failing to properly report when a sloth bit an employee, and failure to provide safety protection to that animal in its enclosure before it twice burned its face on a heat lamp.
Due to the two-year suspension, SeaQuest had to find new homes for its otters, some trout, a wood duck, capybaras and the sloth. According to records obtained by the FOX31 Problem Solvers, 240 trout were euthanized.
MacDonald said the facility later acquired asian water monitors, Savannah cats, and pigs, which can interact with visitors.
“SeaQuest is a very unique experience,” said MacDonald. The fact that you can come in and pet a wallaby, feed the pigs, play with the Savannah cats, feed the stingrays - a lot of those things aren’t very common - so when you think about a regulatory agency and the rules that you set up for which animals people can see, there was not really a set process…and so that’s where we’ve had a lot of those learning lessons that have really helped us shape the facility to what it is today.”
FOX31 sent an undercover team into the facility this month, prior to meeting MacDonald. They observed clean conditions and even saw an employee cleaning a tank.
MacDonald said the staff has been working hard to improve after the previous bumps in the road.
“We’re really passionate about the animals at the end of the day. I think our facilities show that. Our team members show that, and when you look at the animals and the experience. It really is just reflective of how much our teams care for what we do here,” said MacDonald.