Trouble at Boise, Portland, and Austin aquariums

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  October 2013: (Actually published on November 20,  2013.)

BOISE,  Idaho––A new Boise Aquarium management team headed by former Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce president Nancy Vannorsdel has pledged to ensure that alleged mistreatment of animals at the aquarium will not be repeated.  Vannorsdel told KTVB reporter Matt Standal that she wants to add “a couple of very,  very strong marine biologists to sit on the board,”   to ensure proper animal care. Boise Aquarium attendance fell 60% during 2013,  Vannorsdel said. Boise Aquarium cofounders Ammon Covino and Christopher Conk,  both age 40,   on September 24,  2013  pleaded guilty in federal district court in Key West,  Florida,  to illegally conspiring to acquire eagle rays and lemon sharks from the Florida Keys.  To be sentenced in December 2013,  they each face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.  Also on September 24,  Covino’s nephew,  Peter C. Covino IV,  20,  was sentenced to serve 100 days of home detention for obstruction of justice,  in connection with seeking to destroy records pertaining to the case. The Boise Aquarium,  three years in development,  opened in December 2011.  Also in December 2011,  Conk and his ex-wife Deirda Davison pleaded guilty to trafficking in smuggled coral.  Conk was sentenced to serve six years on supervised probation. The Boise Aquarium was incorporated as a nonprofit organization.  Ammon Covino and his brother Vincent in December 2012 opened the for-profit Portland Aquarium in Milwaukie,  Oregon,  a Portland suburb.  They also planned to open a for-profit aquarium in Austin,  Texas. The Portland Aquarium was investigated by the Oregon Humane Society in August 2013 after media in both Boise and the Portland area––and ANIMAL PEOPLE––received “death logs” purporting to be from one aquarium or the other. The dates on the pages that ANIMAL PEOPLE received cover the time from February 16 to  May 16,  2013 when the Portland Aquarium reportedly had no regular vet care.  The most often stated probable causes for animal deaths were starvation,  electrical failures,  getting caught in drains,  and attacks by other animals. Responded Vincent Covino in a prepared statement,  “The death log submitted appears to be fabricated,  or to be skewed by such deaths as dozens of snails,  baby damsel fish and others.” KGW-Portland and KTVB-Boise mean-while reported that Vincent Covino had been told to remove fish from the proposed Austin aquarium site because the site was not licensed to house animals.

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