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Art or animal abuse: Aspen Art Museum exhibit using live tortoises draws ire

Sulcata tortoise at Las Vegas Zoo
Sulcata tortoise at Las Vegas Zoo
Wikicommons (Public Domains tag)

It’s one thing for animals to take selfies, although recent photos taken by a monkey of itself have created a furor over (supposed) copyright infringement between the human owner of the camera and Wikepedia. It now seems to be another matter as to whether a planned exhibit by the Aspen Art Museum featuring live tortoises wearing IPads is a matter pf animal cruelty and exploitation.

The exhibition, titled “Moving Ghost Town” by Cai Guo Qiang, features videos taken as they slowly made their way through several of Colorado’s ghost towns by a trio of African Sulctata tortoises named Whale Wanderer, Big Bertha and Gracie Pink Star, each outfitted with two cameras on their shells. The same animals have been scheduled to display their ”work”, via the iPads as they wander about the museum beginning today.

While the museum has defended the show on its facebook page, by adamantly declaring that, “ the exhibit doesn't hurt the animals and that the three tortoises have been well-cared for and monitored (after being rescued from cramped conditions) and have been under a veterinarian's supervision the entire time,” animal rights activists posted an online petition asking the Museum to cancel the program. The appeal includes a message written by Aspen’s own Lisbeth Oden stating,” 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 (sic) 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!”

In the meantime, it should be noted that Museum officials have consulted with the Turtle Conservancy, which approved the tortoises’ diet of leafy vegetables and environment, as well as scheduled weekly checkups for the animals. It was also stated that the iPads “are placed on mounts that are typically used to attach tracking devices to wild animals.” The exhibit is scheduled to close October 5th, at which time the tortoises will be placed “safely” for adoption.