Tigers in Houston: Landry's responds to lawsuit over exhibit, shares details on new habitat

They are beautiful. Majestic to behold. For more than 13 years, Houstonians have marveled at four white tigers on exhibit at the Houston Downtown Aquarium. Soon, those tigers will have an upgraded habitat.

Landry's Incorporated, owner of the Downtown Aquarium, tells FOX26 the upgrades have been in the works since new standards were finalized by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

For the past year, Landry's has been facing a lawsuit claiming the Houston Aquarium has violated the Endangered Species Act. According to plaintiff Cheryl Conley, the entertainment and dining attraction has failed to provide any outdoor access for the tigers.

On Monday, a motion of abatement was filed by Conley. It claims there is a reasonable chance Conley will no longer wish to pursue her lawsuit if an outdoor facility is built, as the Houston Aquarium had suggested would happen in prior statements to media. 

On Tuesday, FOX26 obtained the following statement from Landry's Incorporated Director of Biology, Jim Prappas: 

“The Downtown Aquarium has been subject to many misleading and false statements regarding the facility's tiger exhibit and its care of four white tigers. Being accredited by AZA and ZAA as well as having a spotless record with USDA, our tiger exhibit has consistently exceeded all animal health and welfare standards.

Approximately two years ago, AZA notified all accredited zoos and aquariums that the organization was updating its standards for maintaining tigers and other large carnivores. When the standards were finalized, we immediately began designing a new tiger exhibit to uphold our accreditation.  The new exhibit, which has been reviewed and approved by the AZA, will not only include an outdoor area and additional enrichment opportunities, but will also add an additional 3,500 square feet of exhibit space.

It is obvious by their recent pleading that the lawsuit against the Aquarium was frivolous in the first place, and we will be asking the Court to award us all remedies available to us.”

In response, Conley's attorney Tony Eliseuson of the Animal Legal Defense Fund issued the following statement to FOX26:

"We are hopeful that the Downtown Aquarium truly intends to build a significantly improved and expanded habitat for the tigers that will include additional enrichment features and outdoor access that it has deprived them from for most of their lives. Our client Cheryl Conley looks forward to the day when all four tigers -- Nero, Marina, Coral, and Reef -- are able to set foot outside and breathe in fresh air for the first time in over a decade, which was the focus of her lawsuit."

When asked when the exhibit will be complete, Landrys did not confirm a timeline. Conley's motion states she is under the impression that the construction of the exhibit is likely to be completed this calendar year, assuming the City of Houston issues the relevant building permits this month.

 Conley's motion essentially puts the lawsuit on hold, while still allowing her to pursue the claims should the exhibit fail to reach completion.

According to their website, the Downtown Aquarium’s White Tiger exhibit was designed and constructed with the recommendations of large carnivore experts from across the country. The say the exhibit is temperature-regulated with soundproof glass, multiple levels for climbing, a large pool and multiple skylights and windows to provide natural sunlight.