The Iowa Supreme Court ruled against Pamela and Thomas Sellner, owners of Eastern Iowa’s Cricket Hollow Zoo near Manchester, who requested to set aside a judge’s finding that they were in contempt for having refused a court order to surrender the animals at their roadside attraction after it was closed. In December 2021, the justices agreed to stay enforcement of a court order until it decided whether to review the matter, but in April 2022 the court rejected the Sellners’ request for the court to hear their appeal, and it lifted that stay on enforcement.
This long saga started when the Animal Legal Defense Fund and other citizens from Iowa (Tracey Kuehl, Lisa Kuehl, Pamela Jones and Haley Anderson) filed a series of lawsuits in state and federal courts in 2016 alleging numerous violations of Iowa’s animal neglect laws. A judge ruled against the Sellners and ordered the zoo to close, with many of the animals to be relocated to wildlife sanctuaries in other states. But when animal-rescue organizations arrived at the zoo, they found that two mountain lions, five bears, a fox, a camel, a wolf, nine guinea pigs and hedgehogs, 13 lizards, seven tortoises and turtles, at least 55 birds and six kinkajous were missing.
However, later the court found that the Sellners falsified records and deliberately defied an earlier 2019 court order demanding that they relinquish custody of all the animals in their care. The court ordered them to pay $70,000 in fines, and if payments are not made toward the fine, they will have to serve a one-day jail sentence for each animal that was not recovered from their zoo (up to a total of 140 days). It is shocking that despite the zoo’s well-documented history of keeping animals in deplorable conditions, no federal, state or county officials had ever attempted to close the zoo or bring criminal charges against the owners. This is another example that shows the legislation that regulates the zoo industry cannot prevent animal suffering, and therefore zoos should be phased out.