Teams of rescue workers dispatched to a zoo near Manchester Monday found that about 75% of the animals they were to transport off the property were missing.
They included five bears, two mountain lions, a camel and a wolf.
In light of the disappearances, the owners of Cricket Hollow Animal Park — Pam and Tom Sellner — could face civil charges for failing to comply with a court order issued in November for the removal of the creatures, according to officials with the California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund. That group was tasked by a judge with overseeing the removal of all “exotic” animals from the zoo.
“The animals are no longer in their possession, and they were not supposed to sell them or give them away,” said Elizabeth Putsche, associate director of communications at Animal Legal Defense Fund, told the Telegraph Herald. “Our priority is tracking the animals down and getting them to a safe location for medical assistance.”
When asked for comment by the Telegraph Herald today, Pam Sellner ordered a reporter off the property.
Following a six-day civil trial last month in the Iowa District Court of Delaware County, Judge Monica Wittig ordered “exotic” animals removed immediately, calling the conditions at the park “deplorable.”
Although the Sellners have appealed the case, the Iowa Supreme Court declined to stay Wittig’s order, allowing the rescue of the exotic animals to proceed.
Monday, more than 15 workers from Animal Rescue League of Iowa and The Animal Wildlife Sanctuary oversaw the removal. They were accompanied by attorneys involved in the case and Delaware County Sheriff’s Department deputies.
At the time of the trial, more than 300 animals lived at the park, but workers were unable to locate large numbers of tropical birds, five grizzly bears, two mountain lions, a camel and a wolf.
As they investigated the property, they took an inventory of what animals remained.
A veterinarian from the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines declined to comment when asked about the animals’ conditions.
Investigators also located buckets filled with an unknown number of dead snakes and other reptiles that had not been fed.
After observing several alpacas on the Sellner’s dairy farm adjacent to the zoo, ALDF staff said they suspected that some animals were relocated.
Rescue workers located several ponies and exotic cattle at that location.
ALDF will work on tracking down the missing animals, said staff attorney Amanda Howell.
“What we’ve learned is that you can’t necessarily trust that people who operate roadside zoos, no matter how much they say they love animals,” she said.
The rescued animals will be transported to sanctuaries and rehabilitation facilities, where they will receive veterinary care, Howell said.