BOISE -- The Idaho Aquarium is back open. It was closed Thursday when the owner and an employee were charged with buying illegally-obtained wildlife. Now, aquarium staff says changes are being made to make sure this alleged illegal activity never happens again.
Thursday, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers combed through the aquarium building. They confiscated two potentially illegally-obtained sharks.
Court documents say aquarium president Ammon Covino and aquarium secretary Christopher Conk bought four spotted eagle rays and two lemon sharks out of Florida. The rays were reportedly never shipped. The two men appeared in federal court Thursday on four charges related to violating the Lacey Act, which makes it is against the law to take illegally captured or prohibited animals across state lines.
Yesterday, when we had a lot of people come up to the door, and we were closed, we had a lot of sad faces, said Stephanie Leonard, a marine biologist at the Idaho Aquarium.
Friday, the aquarium was an entirely different scene, open and swarming with kids, students, and their parents.
Leonard says she can't talk for Conk and Covino. But, she says the staff had no idea that there was a chance that the supplier who gave them those animals did not have the proper permits.
We have different protocol now for making sure our suppliers have all their proper permits in place, said Leonard. We're making sure that we file all the proper paperwork for every animal that we get, and that we're alerting the feds.
She also says the biologists will be more involved in that process. We'll get other animals in that will be just as cool, and they'll be totally legal.
Leonard says she was told by Fish and Wildlife officers that they are not trying to shut the Idaho Aquarium down, just that they want them to go through the proper channels for their animals. Nobody's trying to shut us down. If anything, it's been an educational opportunity for us, a learning experience, she said.
Again, the Idaho Aquarium is open. Operators say all passes will continue to be honored.
Conk and Covino bonded out of jail Thursday. They're expected to be in a Florida court in March. If convicted, they face upwards of 20 years in prison and a million dollars in fines.