Flying Squirrel Crushed In Door At Woodbridge Mall SeaQuest

WOODBRIDGE, NJ — A flying squirrel was accidentally crushed to death in a door at the SeaQuest at Woodbridge Center Mall in June, according to an incident report from the US Department of Agriculture.

The animal death was confirmed by SeaQuest, and the company said they have changed their doors to prevent future animal deaths.

SeaQuest, which has multiple locations nationwide, is known for being a hands-on zoo/aquarium, and its customers — mostly children — are often encouraged to pet or touch the exotic wildlife.

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However, some in New Jersey have long sought to have the Woodbridge mall SeaQuest shut down, launching a petition against the business, which alleges that animals are injured inside the facility or in danger of being stepped on. When the Woodbridge Center SeaQuest first opened, animal rights groups used to protest outside the mall every weekend, but they have not been there in recent years.

The Woodbridge SeaQuest is located inside the mall. SeaQuest owner Vince Covino previously denied all these allegations. He also pointed out that as of 2020, the New Jersey SeaQuest location has never been cited by the state for animal welfare violations.

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According to the USDA, the flying squirrel was killed after it tried to escape while being hit. The squirrel tried to fly out the door while customers were petting it and a SeaQuest staffer accidentally closed a door on the squirrel, crushing it to death.

“On June 24, 2021, a flying squirrel was caught in a secondary door after an interaction with a customer,” USDA officials wrote in the report. “The secondary door allows animal care staff and members of the public to enter the primary enclosure of the flying squirrels. According to a facility representative, the team member assisting the customer during the interaction, opened the secondary door into a vestibule. Once the customer was in the vestibule, the flying squirrel attempted to leave the primary enclosure. The employee closed the secondary door on the flying squirrel. The team member contacted the manager, who secured the flying squirrel. The flying squirrel died at the time of the incident. “

“The incident in Woodbridge was an unfortunate accident,” said Kelly Bistriceanu, SeaQuest’s national director of marketing. “The employee immediately recognized the situation, released the pressure from the door, and reported the injury to management. Every attempt was made to save the animal, including emergency veterinary care, but unfortunately, it passed away later that day.”

The USDA did not issue any fines to SeaQuest Woodbridge. The federal agency learned of the squirrel death during a routine inspection it did of SeaQuest in late November/early December of 2021, five months after the animal died.

However, the USDA did issue what’s called a “critical citation” to SeaQuest. The USDA also noted that by the time they had done their inspection, the facility had added plastic freezer straps in front of the secondary door, and changed the secondary door to a mosquito mesh sliding door with magnetic closure — all to prevent similar animal deaths in the future.

“The internal entry on this animal’s enclosure has been refitted with a magnetic screen to ensure a similar incident never occurs,” said company spokeswoman Bistriceanu. “Animal enclosures are fitted with a double-door system to ensure that animals are kept safely inside their enclosure when guests or team members enter or exit. SeaQuest takes animal welfare very seriously.”

SeaQuest locations nationwide previously cited or found

SeaQuest locations across the country have been issued similar animal welfare citations from the USDA or other government agencies. In addition to Woodbridge, there are SeaQuests in Utah, Texas, Las Vegas, California, Connecticut, Minnesota, Colorado, Virginia and Georgia.

In 2019, the state of Colorado fined the SeaQuest there for improperly keeping a capybara and a two-toed sloth, according to this report. That SeaQuest, similarly located inside a mall, also failed two animal safety inspections by the Colorado Wildlife and State Agriculture inspections, and was the subject of an undercover investigation by the local Fox news affiliate.

In 2017, a former employee at the company’s Las Vegas location told NJ.com that hundreds of animals died there, and exotic birds were deliberately “underfed to encourage them to interact with guests more.” He also said an octopus died because employees unplugged a cooling device. Covino told the Las Vegas Review-Journal the person making those allegations was a disgruntled former employee who had not been promoted.

Patch interviewed Covino when the Woodbridge Center Mall SeaQuest first opened in 2019. Covino said he deliberately started SeaQuest as a place where children can touch and interact freely with exotic animals.

“I started doing this because I was tired of paying $100 a ticket to take my wife and six kids to the zoo or to an aquarium,” Covino said at the time. “What’s a shame is that our aquariums get millions of people a year to fall in love with animals. That’s what people should be focusing on. I mean, have you ever held or interacted with a threatened species? That’s what you’ll be able to do here.”

“Every animal at SeaQuest is a part of our family, and we all grieved this loss,” said Covino in a statement this week, referring to the flying squirrel. “We are determined to do everything in our power to prevent accidents — even unintentional ones like this — from happening in the future.”

PETA spokesman David Perle said the US Department of Agriculture can issue fines, suspend or revoke licenses and confiscate animals.

“But the agency often fails to take action and — when it does — the process can take years to resolve, if it ever does,” he said. “This flying squirrel suffered a horrific death. SeaQuest tourist traps are dangerous.”

PETA maintains this report of all the allegations it says have been levied against SeaQuest across the nation, including children and staff being bitten by the animals, a wallaby drowning in its pen and improper paperwork for exotic animals: https://www.peta. org/wp-content…

In 2020, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection said they have issued no fines or violations to the Woodbridge SeaQuest.

Complaints against the aquarium, alleging mistreatment of the animals, have been filed with the Woodbridge Department of Health. But town spokesman John Hagerty told Patch in 2020 that the Dept. of Health investigated and “the complaints were deemed unfounded.”

Prior reporting on the Woodbridge Center Mall SeaQuest: Criticism Mounts At SeaQuest Aquarium At Woodbridge Center Mall (Jan. 2020)

Owner Of SeaQuest Aquarium In Woodbridge Responds To Criticism (Jan. 2020)

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