AUSTIN (KXAN) — Charmaine Dickerson’s trip to visit her boyfriend ended with her in pain – and is considering a lawsuit.
“I remember looking down and my face was like dripping blood,” she said.
The culprit was a lemur at the Austin Aquarium, according to Dickerson. The location is one of two in the United States that allows guests to interact with lemurs, according to the aquarium’s website.
Dickerson said she signed up for an “animal encounter,” where she was told she could pet a lemur under supervision of a handler.
“I take probably two steps in, the lemur lurches at me,” she said. “It lands on my shoulder. I turned my face. There’s a bite on this side, and then a scratch. I just felt bleeding.”
The aquarium told us in a statement that it’s conducting an internal investigation to gather and find out more information to prevent any future incidents.
“We have over a million people visiting our facility a year. During that time, we have had a minimal number of people who have had any sort of incident, such as a nip or scratch from an animal that we have on-site,” the statement continues. “We would like to note, in past situations, we have seen it is typically due to a lack of guests not following the clear USDA guidelines we provide at the beginning of each animal encounter by our trained staff… We would like to extend our sincere thoughts, we want everyone to be safe.”
Aquarium’s inspection history
The Austin Aquarium, located off of US 183, is a for-profit aquarium – and therefore is not required to be accredited with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
It is, however, monitored by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
According to a USDA report, the agency issued a warning to the aquarium for its handling of animals on two separate occasions. The violation read as follows:
“During public exhibition, any animal must be handled so there is minimal risk of
harm to the animal and to the public, with sufficient distance and/or barriers between
the animal and the general viewing public so as to assure the safety of animals and
Searching through USDA inspection reports of the facility, we found several inspection reports detailing issues involving “handling of animals.”
One inspection report from August 2022 states a “boy was bitten on the hand by an adult female kinkajou during an animal encounter.”
According to the aquarium, its “animals are exotic, and we have the utmost care, regulations, and guidelines. We pride ourselves in the ability to offer these hands-on experiences to all guests to inspire future generations to understand how important conservation is to the planet we share.”
In 2019, KXAN reported on a family who sued the Austin Aquarium after a lemur allegedly bit a little girl.
We spoke with the girl’s father, Vikas Dumra, after the incident happened.
“As the session was finished and she was heading out, one of the lemurs that was, in fact, sitting on her shoulder, it just jumped, and my daughter kind of bent down a little bit, and then she got bit,” Dumra told us in 2019. “Naturally, I went to the front counter. I said, ‘Hey this is what happened. Do you want me to file some incident report? What’s the process?’ They were pretty casual about the whole thing, and they said, ‘Hey, why doesn’t she just wash it with some soap and water?”
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which again – does not oversee this specific facility, discourages hands-on encounters with lemurs.
PETA sent a statement to KXAN saying the organization has alerted local authorities about the incident.
The aquarium said it has “one of the largest troops of endangered ringtailed lemurs and have a very successful breeding program to do our part to prevent their extinction.”