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Animal Abuse or Art? Vote Now on Aspen's Tortoisegate

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Since we reported on the Aspen Art Museum's use of desert tortoises in their most controversial art exhibit, the story has exploded and officially become #Tortoisegate 2014 (shout out to Aspen Spin for coining the term). The brand new $45 million art museum designed by the Pritzker Prize winning architect Shigeru Ban is under attack for hosting an exhibit by artist Cai Guo-Quiang. The rooftop exhibit features three desert tortoises crawling (slowly) around with iPads attached to their shells. Critics are up in arms, calling this turtle torture and a Change.org petition now has over 2,000 signatures. And with a slew of news stories reporting on #Tortoisegate, the Aspen Art Museum has responded with a (very) long explanation. So check out their response and then let us know where YOU stand on all the turtle drama.

Is this just an elaborate marketing ploy? Read the museum's response below, then tell us Curbediverse:

Poll results

Late Wednesday evening, here's how the Museum responded on their Facebook Page:

"The Facts about Cai Guo-Qiang's Moving Ghost Town Tortoises

Cai Guo-Qiang's installation Moving Ghost Town consists of three African Tortoises named Big Bertha, Gracie Pink Star, and Whale Wanderer. Friendly, good-natured, and adaptable, the African Tortoise (Centrochelys sulcata) is the third-largest species of tortoise and a popular pet.

Working closely with local veterinarian Dr. Elizabeth Kremzier, DVM, on health concerns, and with the internationally acclaimed Turtle Conservancy on husbandry issues, the Aspen Art Museum arranged for the transport of the tortoises to Aspen and constructed a habitat that promotes and safeguards sustained health and comfort. The ideal temperature for the tortoises is 85 – 105ºF during the day. The tortoise habitat provides a variety of temperatures to give the tortoises the option of where they want to be, including lots of natural sunlight, radiant heating panels, and heated rocks. The tortoises are very strong and active and when the temperature gets too cold for them, they will self-regulate by lying in the sun or on the heating pad in their enclosure. Unfiltered natural sunlight is the ideal scenario for the tortoises and fifteen minutes of natural sunlight is equivalent to more than eight hours of indoor incandescent light. The habitat allows the tortoises plenty of space to roam and explore. African Tortoises eat a diet of vegetables, grasses, and herbaceous plants, and trained museum staff members provide the tortoises with a salad of mixed greens and vegetables every day.

Each of the three tortoises carries an iPad in the installation, showcasing footage of their experience in Colorado. The iPad adds negligible weight for the tortoise to support: their thick, sturdy legs accommodate their own weight and, during mating, upwards of 150 extra pounds. The use of the iPad and its mounting method is a reduced version of the method employed by scientists and researchers who study the animals in the wild. The silicone/epoxy material is noninvasive and removes easily and cleanly without damaging the tortoise's shell. It is common practice to use this particular adhesive to attach research-tracking devices in the wild. It is the most benign method to track animals in the wild. In this instance, it is used to temporarily attach the bolts that hold the mounting system. The mounting system is designed purposely to keep the iPads at a distance from their shell and does not impede their growth.

Dr. Elizabeth Kremzier, DVM: "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 exhibition. 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 professional opinion, the tortoises have adapted well to their new habitat, and the iPads have not interfered in any way with their natural behavior."

Weekly visits by the museum's local veterinarian along with constant monitoring by the museum staff will ensure that Big Bertha, Gracie Pink Star, and Whale Wanderer remain healthy and comfortable. At the close of the exhibition, they will find new homes in conservation and educational facilities selected in consultation with the Turtle Conservancy.

Turtle Conservancy Founder and President Eric Goode comments: "We at the Turtle Conservancy believe that Cai Guo-Qiang's installation raises public awareness of the fact that African Tortoises (Centrochelys sulcata) are completely inappropriate as pets for most people. Although they are very attractive when small, they grow to a very large size (over two feet long and more than 125 pounds) requiring very large and expensive enclosures. They also live a very long time, at least as long as a human. Once these tortoises are a few years old, they can no longer be cared for by most of those who buy them and become disposable pets. This message is timely as it coincides with the release of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, which is sure to increase demand for pet tortoises. We hope that Cai's exhibition will convince people that, in general, turtles and tortoises are very challenging pets that bring great responsibility as they can often outlive their owners."

The African Tortoise is native to the southern edge of the Sahara, from Senegal east through Mali, Niger, Chad, the Sudan, and Ethiopia. The tortoise population is rapidly disappearing, and the animals are endangered in the wild. However, removing turtles and tortoises from the wild has not only endangered the existence of the animals in their native habitat, but has also resulted in overbreeding of African Tortoises in captivity. Contrary to popular belief, breeding tortoises does not help the wild population but actually hurts the species.

The tortoises featured in Moving Ghost Town were rescued from a breeder in Arizona who kept eighteen tortoises in a space smaller than the current AAM habitat and actively promoted their sale. This exhibition helped facilitate the removal of three of these tortoises from the breeder.

The AAM is sensitive to concerns raised regarding the presentation of tortoises within this extraordinary and compelling exhibition. The AAM wishes to point out that as a contemporary art museum, we provide a platform for each exhibiting artist to present their own unique artistic vision and to exercise their freedom of expression. That free expression can, and does, take many forms, and it is not the museum's practice to censor artists."

And the Turtle Conservancy has weighed in, too. Check it out over here.

· New Aspen Art Museum Under Fire for iPad-Topped Turtles [Curbed Ski]
· Aspen Art Museum opens its doors with a bang [Aspen Times]
· How Cardboard King Shigeru Ban Designs an Art Museum [Curbed]
· Take the iPads Off The Tortoises [Change.org]
· Tortoises with iPads spur protest at new Aspen Art Museum [Denver Post]
· Aspen Art Museum Designer Wins Architecture's Biggest Prize [Curbed Ski]