Aspen Art Museum's exhibit featuring iPads on tortoises: Art or animal abuse?

ASPEN, Colo. - A petition drive is underway asking the Aspen Art Museum to stop its plans for an art exhibit featuring live tortoises with iPads on their backs.

However, the Art Museum says the weight of the iPads is much less than a female tortoise handles during mating.

The new Aspen Art Museum is scheduled to open Saturday.

The art museum's website says one of the first exhibits is Moving Ghost Town by Cai Guo-Qiang, where "three African Sulcata tortoises roam freely on a section of natural turf similar to local grasslands. With iPads mounted to their backs, the tortoises feature video footage of three local ghost towns, which were filmed by the creatures themselves."

While the description calls for just three tortoises, a rendering of the exhibit shows several more. In an email sent to 7NEWS, the Aspen Art Museum said the tortoises are named Big Bertha, Gracie Pink Star, and Whale Wanderer.

"The Aspen Art Museum is a contemporary art museum that provides a platform for artists to present their artistic vision with a freedom of expression. That free expression can take many forms, and it is not the Museum’s practice to censor artists. Cai Guo-Qiang’s installation features three African Sulcata Tortoises which were rescued from a breeder where they were living in an over-crowded enclosure and being over bred. The three are being closely monitored, cared for, checked by a local veterinarian at regular intervals, and are being exhibited in consultation with the Turtle Conservancy. Following the end of the exhibition on October 5, the tortoises will find new homes in conservation and educational facilities selected in collaboration with the Turtle Conservancy."
-Sara Fitzmaurice, Spokesperson, Aspen Art Museum

The Art Museum said its working closely with a local veterinarian and the weight of the iPad is less than the tortoise handles during mating.

"Tortoises have thick, sturdy legs to hold up not only their own weight, but in the case of females, are used to accommodating a significant amount of additional weight, upwards of 150 lbs, during mating," the Aspen Art Museum said in a statement. "The iPads on their backs during the exhibition hours provide very little extra weight and were determined to have no risk or harm to the tortoises by both our local veterinarian Dr. Liz Kremzier and the internationally acclaimed Turtle Conservancy."

"I have worked with the staff from the Aspen Art Museum since the initial planning phase of the Cai Guo-Qiang project.  Without question, the welfare of the Tortoises has taken the highest priority in every stage of this exhibit.  The environmental and  nutritional needs of the animals have been met and are monitored closely.  Environmental enrichment has been provided, and every attempt has been made to minimize stress on the animals.  In my opinion, the tortoises have adapted well to their new habitat, and the I-pads have not interfered in any way with their natural behavior.”
-Dr Elizabeth Kremzier, Veterinarian

However, some community members are asking the museum to cancel the exhibit calling it animal abuse.

A petition drive posted on Change.org Tuesday says, "Since when is animal abuse art?  We must all rise and stop this now!! There is no excuse for this!"

"Please stop this unnecessary exploitation of animals now and do the right thing by getting these iPad of the Tortoises' backs and make sure they are given to a sanctuary where they will never be abused like this again and put pressure on the artist to vow he will never do anything like this to any other animal ever again," the petition says.

The Art Museum defends its plans by saying, "The iPad mounting method was created in consultation with the Turtle Conservancy and is a reduced version of the method employed by scientists and researchers who study the animals in the wild. The material is noninvasive and removes easily and cleanly without damaging the tortoise’s shell. The method used to attach the mounts is an epoxy. It is common practice to use this particular epoxy to attach research tracking devices in the wild. It is the most benign method to track animals in the wild. The mounting system is designed purposely to have the iPads at a distance from their shell and does not impend their growth."

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