Sunday, October 23, 2016
By PAULA SCHLEIS
Beacon Journal staff writer
As the Akron Zoo makes plans to swap its 4-year-old Journey to the Reef exhibit with a new learning experience, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is encouraging officials not to include another “touch tank.”
The organization wrote to zoo CEO Doug Piekarz, urging him to opt for virtual-reality exhibits instead.
“Encouraging visitors to harass and handle captive animals is the antithesis of fostering respect, so announcing a permanent end to your touch tanks will surely appeal to socially conscious millennials and their children at a time when even Ringling Bros. circus has taken elephants off the road and SeaWorld has announced an end to its orca-breeding program,” said a letter penned by John Di Leonardo, who works with PETA’s “animals in entertainment” campaign.
The zoo is discussing plans for what will replace the exhibit in a part of the Komodo Kingdom that is designed to be changed every three to four years, zoo spokesman David Barnhardt said.
“We appreciate the concern. Obviously, we care about our animals,” said Barnhardt, who added “we will take his thoughts into consideration.”
Some 1.4 million people have visited Journey to the Reef since 2012. It featured octopus, jelly fish, eels, seahorses, lionfish, clownfish – things that had never been on display at the zoo before – as well as a stingray touch tank that invited people to reach into the water and feel their skin.
Barnhardt said the touch tank was open limited hours and always under the supervision of trained staff.
The intent was to give visitors an “up close and personal experience” while educating them about the importance of reefs, he said.
Journey to the Reef will close Nov. 19 after a Bon Voyage party, with the animals being relocated to other zoos.
The exhibit hall will reopen in June. The website hints the new feature will include both aquatic and terrestrial animals along with carnivorous plants.
In its letter to the zoo, PETA said touch tanks are cruel for confining wild animals to shallow aquariums or containers, “where they are harassed by humans who grope at them and pollute the water with bacteria.”
While PETA also noted children have been known to be bitten on the hand by stingrays, and that malfunctioning touch tanks have caused the deaths of hundreds of animals, zoo officials said no children or animals had been injured at the Akron exhibit.