The small zoo opened by Tom and Pamela Sellner over fifteen years ago is described by the owners as a labor of love which stemmed from their love and respect for animals.
Some of the more than 150 animals at the Cricket Hollow Zoo in Manchester are certainly not what most people expect to see in a farming community in the Midwest, including lemurs, tigers and lions.
Allegations of Animal Mistreatment
Despite claims of starting the zoo out of respect and love for these wild animals, the couple are being sued by the California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund along with several Iowa residents, claiming that their so-called roadside zoo has been mistreating the animals in its care for years. The trial, which commenced at the beginning of October in a Cedar Rapids federal court, could result in the first court ruling regarding how roadside zoos must care for animals which are considered endangered.
Results for Roadside Zoos
If the lawsuit is won by the plaintiffs, it would mean that owners of roadside zoos are on notice. Jessica Blome the senior attorney of the ALDF, told The Associated Press that if roadside zoo owners don’t treat endangered animals well and ensure that they have access to proper veterinary care, and ensure that the natural environment is in as close proximity as possible, they will have the animals taken off of them as they do not deserve to have them.
In court filings and in a statement posted on the zoo’s website, the Sellners deny all of the allegations of animal abuse against them, saying that they love animals and have been unfairly maligned. On the zoo’s website, Pamela Sellner wrote that the couple have personally been subject to receipt of hate mail and even death threats as a result of the lawsuit.
System Overhaul Needed
There have been an estimated number of hundreds of other lawsuits regarding the treatment of animals at roadside zoos in the U.S., however animal rights groups say that the federal oversight system for these zoos is in need of a complete overhaul.
This Iowa lawsuit challenges specifically how the Sellener’s zoo cares for its animals under the Endangered Species Act – three wolves, four tigers and three lemurs. There is a similar case pending in North Carolina, however animal advocates expect the Iowa case to be the one which is resolved first.