Groupon Boosts Attendance at ‘Notorious’ Zoos and Aquariums

A brand new report revealed by the nonprofit World Animal Protection (WAP) claims that Groupon “routinely partners with some of the cruelest captive wildlife venues in the U.S.,” thereby creating demand for and benefiting from the exploitation of untamed animals in roadside zoos, marine parks, and different venues.

WAP states that for years, Groupon has provided “tickets to roadside zoos, pseudo-sanctuaries, and marine amusement parks with long track records of animal suffering.” Many of those amenities generate income by promoting “dangerous and cruel interactions with wild animals,” based on the nonprofit. 

Groupon’s web site phrases it in another way. The corporate, which has 24 million lively customers within the U.S. and round 53 million worldwide, claims to have “pumped” $25 billion into native companies whereas saving its North American clients $35 billion. 


Groupon additionally profits from every ticket offered via its platform. 

An notorious marine park in Miami 

Among the many most well-known venues mentioned within the WAP report is Miami Seaquarium, the place the 56-year-old orca initially referred to as Tokitae, and extra famously renamed Lolita by the marine park, has lived since 1970. She was 4 years previous when captured in a violent roundup of orca calves from the waters of Puget Sound close to Seattle, Washington. 

Tokitae is the one remaining survivor of a pod of Southern Resident killer whales, which was not too long ago designated by the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as an endangered species. Animal safety teams and Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest have tried for years to free her however have met resistance at almost each flip. They are saying her tank is simply too small and doesn’t supply shade from the solar. 


Tokitae has lived alone since 1980 after her tankmate Hugo died after repeatedly hitting his head towards the wall of the tank and struggling an aneurysm. This repetitive habits is one instance of what many animal habits specialists and advocates name “zoochosis,” stereotypical behaviors with no obvious objective which are typically seen in captive animals. 

“The Miami Seaquarium is notorious for its history of animal welfare violations,” says Nicole Barrantes, WAP’s Wildlife Marketing campaign Supervisor, who provides that the marine park is “routinely in the media for mistreating its animals.” Barrantes factors to an incident in April, caught on digicam, during which a dolphin attacked a coach in entrance of an viewers attending a present.


The listing of animal welfare considerations “goes on and on,” she says. A 17-page U.S. Division of Agriculture (USDA) report dated June 8, 2021, acknowledged that suggestions from a Seaquarium veterinarian concerning the standard of veterinary care on the facility “have been repeatedly disregarded or dismissed over the last year.” That former Seaquarium veterinarian Magdalena Rodriguez claimed she was fired from her job for elevating comparable considerations about how animals are housed and skilled.

For over 50 years, Tokitae has lived in what Barrantes and plenty of different animal advocates think about to be “the smallest orca tank in the world,” even after retiring from performing in exhibits. In latest months, Tokitae suffered from what unbiased veterinarians known as a “very serious health event.” The veterinarians’ latest assessment exhibits regular enchancment, they usually plan to launch updates on her situation each month. 


Whereas its Miami Seaquarium offers had been marked “not yet available” on the time this text was written, Groupon has listed on its web site provides together with discounted admission, dolphin encounters, and an underwater dive within the park’s tropical reef tank. 

A zoo featured in Tiger King 

One other extremely publicized Groupon itemizing is the Zoological Wildlife Foundation (ZWF), which was featured within the Netflix collection “Tiger King.” WAP’s findings reveal “chronic” violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) at ZWF, together with a failure to offer animals with sufficient veterinary care, correctly deal with animals, and correctly keep enclosures.

A December 2015 USDA inspection report discovered that ZWF’s stock of the animals it owned was not updated. The report additionally decided that the zoo didn’t supply a enough primate enrichment program, a discovering echoed in a July 2021 inspection. The inspection additionally recognized a essential animal dealing with violation on the facility. Through the incident, a visitor was bitten by a lion cub.

In accordance with 7 News Miami, Florida Fish and Wildlife Fee issued ZWF a written warning in 2020, after a younger chimpanzee named Limbani bit a baby. WAP’s report states that whereas Limbani now not interacts immediately with guests, “ZWF continues to dress him in costume and make him perform human activities like driving—grossly jeopardizing his development and safety.” 

“These animals endure cruel training, and sometimes drugging, to render them tame enough to interact with the humans,” the nonprofit Born Free Foundation writes, referring to the risks of what it calls “forced interactions” between people and wild animals in captivity. “Despite this brutal training, these animals—because they remain essentially ‘wild’—still pose a potential threat to public safety.”

The WAP report states that ZWF proprietor Mario Tabraue used the sale and trafficking of untamed animals “as a cover for his massive drug empire,” and based ZWF after being launched from jail in 2000. In 2014, Tabraue made headlines for making an attempt to cease the passage of the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, reportedly paying a lobbyist to combat the proposed laws that will have regulated the possession, sale, transport, and breeding of massive cats similar to tigers and lions.

Groupon has offered deals together with “hands-on interactions with reptiles, primates, small mammals, and birds of prey” for each youngsters ($65) and adults ($95) at ZWF. Just like the offers at Seaquarium, the ZWF provides are presently marked “not yet available.”

Driving up attendance

WAP emphasizes that Groupon shouldn’t be solely itemizing venues for vacationers to search out, however driving up attendance via their offers. The coupon firm additionally earnings by taking a minimize of every ticket sale. “Many reviews on travel sites noted that it was a Groupon deal that encouraged them to visit the venue,” writes WAP. 

Groupon’s personal data exhibits that encouraging customers to attend its featured locations typically leads to more cash spent there. The corporate reviews that 84 % of its clients weren’t contemplating a service provider earlier than seeing it featured on Groupon and 65 % spent further cash past the worth of their Groupon deal on the venue.

“First let me start off by saying that I found this place by searching things to do in my area on Groupon. This sanctuary came up with a good deal,” writes one Groupon person referring to Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Florida, which can also be named in WAP’s report. 

The sanctuary has had its fair proportion of issues. In 1999, the power, then known as the Chimp Farm, lost its federal license to exhibit animals underneath the USDA after shock inspections discovered that it didn’t meet situations required by the AWA. After its license was revoked, the Chimp Farm was “rebranded as a sanctuary,” says WAP, and is presently described on its web site as “home to over 120 formerly abused, forfeited, or abandoned exotic animals.” 

Then, in 2010, a 21-year-old Suncoast volunteer was bitten by a chimpanzee who entered a cage the volunteer was cleansing via an unlocked door. The volunteer later sued Suncoast, who refused to reimburse her for her medical payments.

Groupon is presently offering between 37 and 52 % off admission for Suncoast guests.

Providing options

Whereas WAP’s report might embody significantly alarming examples, the group emphasizes that its analysis was restricted by the truth that searches on Groupon’s website are by geographic location and never by subject. Which means the eight venues listed are most likely “only the tip of the iceberg,” it says. And the issue runs deeper than Groupon.

In its report, WAP additionally criticizes inadequacies within the AWA, which it says units “minimal” requirements for animal care and is “chronically underenforced.” It additionally leaves out a number of species together with reptiles, birds, and amphibians.

Barrantes says that AWA is “in need of improvement,” and that WAP helps the Animal Welfare Enforcement Improvement Act (H.R. 3277) as a part of an answer. The invoice has drawn help from different organizations together with Animal Legal Defense Fund which, like WAP, provides a kind letter to ship to encourage the Act’s passing. 

Barrantes believes that, if enacted, the advance act would deal with gaps within the AWA by strengthening the processes for licensure and license renewals, holding “exhibitors and dealers accountable to following the law,” and permitting public residents to file lawsuits towards alleged violators of the legislation. It might additionally pressure the palms of a number of the venues listed by Groupon, resulting in enhancements in look after the animals they personal. However WAP is urging Groupon to make the adjustments to its personal platform first—adjustments which are particularly necessary “in the absence of meaningful enforcement” of the AWA. 

“We at World Animal Protection are urging Groupon to publish an animal welfare policy that clearly prohibits running deals that involve the exploitation of animals, in particular deals for venues that offer interactions with wild animals and captive wild animal performances,” says Barrantes. “We’re also urging the company to make this a public policy that encourages transparency and accountability, including how the company would ensure that its policy is not violated.” 

Neither Groupon, Miami Seaquarium, Zoological Wildlife Basis, nor Suncoast Primate Sanctuary may very well be reached for remark.

Correction: A earlier model of this text included incorrect spellings of Nicole Barrantes’ title as Nicole Berrantes.

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