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Should You Hug a Sloth?

To hear animal rights activists tell it, those at SeaQuest are not. The for-profit company is not accredited by any zoo organization. It has at times run afoul of the U.S.D.A., which governs only some of the fauna on display. Last summer, the four-year-old SeaQuest in Trumbull, Conn., closed after several U.S.D.A. citations, including one when a child was bitten by a sugar glider. (The facility was written up for insufficient supervision.) Another in Colorado closed this year after numerous state and federal citations.

The company has drawn near-constant protests from former employees and groups like PETA, which filed complaints over what it called SeaQuest’s cruelty, neglect and exploitation. According to state records obtained by The New York Times, nearly 100 animals, including two sloths, died at the Woodbridge location between 2019, when it opened, and 2023.

Late last month, the fish and wildlife division of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection sent the company a 32-page notice of violations, listing dozens of animals that were diseased, injured or mistreated, including territorial reptiles that were fighting so aggressively they drew blood, which spilled around their enclosure. An otter and a porcupine escaped, recorded by security cameras but unnoticed by staff. A stressed scarlet macaw plucked out its feathers. Authorities told SeaQuest it must immediately change its practices, and pay a nominal penalty by July 10, or risk substantial fines and the revocation of its permits and animals.

Asked for comment after the violations were filed, a SeaQuest spokeswoman​ pointed The Times to the FAQ section of the company’s website. In a response to an earlier ABC News investigation, the company had posted, “Between 2021 and 2022, SeaQuest Woodbridge acquired hundreds of rescue animals, many of whom were in very poor health.” Executives didn’t respond to questions about specific incidents.

Two sloths have also died at the Las Vegas SeaQuest. Like all the others, it is located in an indoor shopping center, where natural light, humidity, vegetation and diggable floors — the environmental setting in which many animals thrive — are in short supply.

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