A judge has ordered that seven bears, five primates, two mountain lions and all other “exotic” animals be removed immediately from a Manchester roadside zoo after finding their living conditions to be “deplorable.”
Iowa District Court Judge Monica Wittig filed her ruling late Sunday in relation to the lawsuit regarding Cricket Hollow Animal Park.
“The zoo is a public nuisance as defined in the Iowa Code and pursuant to common law in that it is injurious to the health of the animals and potentially to the invitees due to the poor care and living conditions of the animals,” she wrote. “Furthermore, the zoo is unreasonably offensive to the senses in the inhumane manner of living of the animals. The viewing of the animals presents no comfort to the visitor. It is not representative of the ideal of a zoo. It has no education or conservation aspects in its current and historic condition.”
Four plaintiffs, with assistance from the California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund, sued zoo owners Pam and Tom Sellner, seeking to remove the Sellners’ animals and shut down the operation. A six-day civil trial on the matter was held last month in Iowa District Court of Delaware County in Manchester.
Messages left at Cricket Hollow Animal Park on Monday seeking comment were not returned.
The zoo, located west of Manchester, has been under fire for years for alleged violations of multiple animal welfare laws. Some animals already have been removed through the legal efforts of ALDF, and the Sellners have been cited multiple times by federal inspectors.
The recent trial included a visit to the zoo site, and Wittig provided example after example of the poor conditions she witnessed firsthand. They included:
“Before reaching the door, an offensive smell was overwhelming and deplorable. One of the experts indicated she regurgitated into her mouth while inside.”
“The alligator/crocodile was in a container that was no larger than an infant bathtub with sides no taller than possible 2-3 inches. It had no space to move. It had no water in which to swim. In one quick movement, it could have been at visitors’ feet.”
“The area where the sugar gliders and ferrets are kept is something that should have been condemned. As the Court walked around the small, narrow and confined space, a huge spray of some kind of flying insects surrounded the body, most particularly the head. Again, the smell in this confined space was overwhelming.”
“Animals that need to be with others in groups or colonies were housed in solitary. The saddest example of that was the wolf/hound mix. Dogs, wolves and coyotes are pack animals. For this animal to have no contact with its own breed is sadistic, especially when he is a mere chain-link fence away from bears and wallabies.”
“One of the rams had one horn on its head that was so curled it was physically poking into the animal’s eye.”
“In a separate enclosure, there were at least three brown bears in a very small space for their size and number. They appeared to not have sufficient enrichment to occupy them in their enclosure. The animals paced back and forth at the front of their enclosure as the site visit occurred, obviously agitated.”
“Finally, the primates had to be the saddest and scariest animals at the zoo. There was no enjoyment to be realized from observing them.”
She also noted that neither of the Sellners “has any degrees or certifications to care for these types of animals”; that the zoo’s primary veterinarian’s main area of practice is hoof trimming, that he has “no training in exotic animal care” and that “he does NOT conduct any hands-on examination of the animals or do necropsies at their death”; and that the Sellners have no financial reserve to care for the animals or an emergency care plan.
Wittig wrote that the Sellners were in violation of the Iowa animal neglect statute and are divested from ownership of the animals. They also are barred from owning exotic animals in the future.
The list of exotic animals to be removed also includes two foxes, two coyotes, one wolf, a camel, a llama, tropical birds, an unspecified number of “small mammals kept indoors” and reptiles.
Wittig ordered that the arrangements for the animals’ removal will be overseen by Animal Legal Defense Fund and that affiliated veterinarians will be given the authority to recommend where the animals be relocated.
Amanda Howell, staff attorney for ALDF, said she was pleased with the results of the trial.
“It’s impossible to know how many animals have died at Cricket Hollow over the years,” she said. “This will help the animals living there now and also prevent them from obtaining more animals and allowing them to die prematurely.”
The ALDF will act “as quickly as possible” to have the animals removed from the property, Howell said, though she could not provide a specific time frame. She noted that the intention is to have them relocated before winter’s severe cold sets in, especially since some of the animals are in such a state that they are not expected to survive in those conditions.
“We’re strongly motivated to get the animals the care they need,” she said.
The animals will be reassigned to various animal rescues and shelters that are qualified to hold them.
“We have good contacts throughout the nation,” Howell said.