ASPEN, Colo.— Staffers at the Aspen Art Museum have transferred three tortoises to a sanctuary after thousands of people objected to their exploitation in an art exhibit by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang. The exhibit featured three African sulcata tortoises, each with a pair of iPads stuck directly to its massive shell. The Aspen Art Museum removed the tortoises less than one week after the Center for Biological Diversity delivered a petition signed by more than 12,000 people opposed to the controversial exhibit.
“The tortoises deserved better than a life of exploitation and cruelty,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center biologist and attorney dedicated to conserving reptiles and amphibians. “This is a victory for the tortoises and for all the people who spoke out against their cavalier mistreatment.”
A nationwide boycott of the museum was launched earlier this month by Lisbeth Odén, who started a Change.org petition. Andrew Sabin, a New York businessman and turtle conservationist, helped to galvanize opposition to the controversial exhibit, and in less than two weeks, thousands of people — including artists, veterinarians and philanthropists — signed the Change.org and Center petitions asking the museum to end the controversial exhibit.
The African tortoises used by the artist are designated as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. These tortoises are rapidly disappearing in the wild in part because of human exploitation, mostly from the pet trade.
“Exploitation for the pet trade is pushing tortoises and many animals around the world toward extinction,” said Adkins Giese. “But tortoises are quiet companions that don’t perform tricks, and many end up in shelters overflowing with discarded ‘pets.’ So I’m glad that the story of these three tortoises has a happy ending and they’ll spend the rest of their lives in a sanctuary.”
Although the exhibit was set to run through Oct. 5, the veterinarian in charge of their care determined that weather conditions are too cold and wet to ensure their well-being. Cool, wet weather is normal in Aspen in the fall, and the museum has not explained why it scheduled the exhibit to run through early October in the first place.