The Iowa Supreme Court Dec. 4 denied a Manchester couple's request to delay the removal of exotic animals from their roadside zoo while they appeal a lower court's ruling.
The decision effectively guarantees that all exotic animals will be removed from Cricket Hollow Animal Park, located just west of Manchester, in the coming weeks, according to Jessica Blome, an attorney working with Animal Legal Defense Fund.
Even if zoo owners Pam and Tom Sellner ultimately win their appeal of a Nov. 24 ruling in Iowa District Court for Delaware County, the animals already will be spread among various sanctuaries and out of reach, Blome said.
"If we lose on appeal, we can compensate (the Sellners) for the loss of their animals," she said. "If we win on appeal (while the animals remain in Manchester), it might be too late for many of the animals. (The decision) will potentially save their lives."
A phone call to the Sellners Dec. 4 rang unanswered.
Blome worked on behalf of several Iowa residents who sued the Sellners, claiming the embattled zoo is a public nuisance due to chronic animal welfare concerns. A trial was held in early November.
Iowa District Court Judge Monica Wittig ultimately agreed with the plaintiffs, who worked with the California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund. Wittig said the animals' living conditions were "deplorable" and wrote that Cricket Hollow Animal Park "has no education or conservation aspects in its current and historic condition."
The Sellners have asked the Iowa Supreme Court to overrule Wittig. They also asked for an immediate stay of Wittig's decision to remove the facility's more than 300 exotic animals, which include seven bears, five primates, two mountain lions, two foxes, two coyotes, one wolf, a camel, a llama, tropical birds, small mammals and reptiles.
"If the animals are removed, the effect will be what some have called the 'scrambled egg' effect," wrote zoo attorney Larry Thorson in a filing. "The appellate court will not be able to put back and return what rightfully belongs to the Sellners because it will lack the ability to fashion an order to do so."
That's the plan, according to Blome. Details still are being finalized, but the animals likely will be moved within the next few weeks.
"Every animal has to be seen by a vet," she said. "Many of them will go through some sort of rehabilitation monitoring and procedure."
The Sellners remain on the hook for about $70,000 in legal expenses for the case. The Animal Legal Defense Fund will cover the costs of removing and caring for the animals before they are placed in permanent sanctuaries.