Animal experts slam Cricket Hollow Zoo care, conditions; testimony in suit seeking to close facility

Tigers, lions, wolves and African wild cats at Cricket Hollow Zoo near Manchester "are suffering inhumane living conditions that result from owners, zookeepers and veterinarians who lack the expertise, the experience and the resources to care for captive wildlife," a California vet with 21 years of experience in caring for such animals says.

Jennifer Conrad, a Los Angeles veterinarian who currently provides care for 30 lions and tigers, made her comments in a deposition filed in support of a motion for summary judgement seeking closure of the troubled "roadside" zoo.

Cricket Hollow has a long history of federal Animal Welfare Act violations dating back to 2010, and animal welfare activists filed suit last year against the zoo owners Tom and Pamela Sellner in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa in Cedar Rapids.

"It is abundantly clear that the zoo's program of veterinary care is woefully inadequate," Conrad said in her deposition.

"For example, the zoo has exhibited veterinary shortcoming in at least the following significant ways: failure to secure an attending veterinarian with adequate experience; failure to provide timely information to the attending veterinarian; failure to perform necropsies and to ascertain causes of death that could potentially be communicable; failure to adequately quarantine animals and to give these animals exams before exposing them to the existing population; failure to feed balanced and wholesome diet to growing animals; failure to monitor teeth and oral pathology; failure to vaccinate for canine distemper, a preventable cause of wild fetid death."

After reviewing U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports, plus depositions of the Sellners and their veterinarian, Conrad said "one need look no further than their financials to realize the Sellners are not caring adequately for their animals. . ."

"By their own admission, in the last five consecutive years, the Sellners have spent on average just $668 a year – less than $700 annually – on all their zoo animals combined, a population of some 300 animals," Conrad noted. "On average then, each animal receives roughly $2.23 a year of veterinary care."

". . . we must reach the obvious and unavoidable conclusion that the vast majority of animals at the zoo are receiving zero minutes in veterinary care in any given year," Conrad said. Even a healthy lion or tiger would cost at least $300 per year just for vaccinations, deworming, fly medicine, pain relief and antibiotics," the large animal vet said.

In another deposition, a national authority on lemurs working at Duke University's Lemur Center said the conditions under which lemurs are being held at Cricket Hollow "are unacceptable, harm and harass the lemurs, and severely compromise the lemurs’ ability to survive and thrive."

Dr. Peter Klopfer, a professor emeritus in Duke's biology department and former co-founder and co-director of the university's primate facility, said "the single housing conditions like those at Cricket Hollow Zoo should never be permitted."

"In my opinion, the housing conditions cause such appalling suffering for the lemurs there (at Cricket Hollow) that on this basis alone I would insist that the lemurs be removed immediately from the facility," Dr. Klopfer stated in his court deposition.

The zoo, and the USDA's decision to automatically re-issue an annual license for the facility, are the subject of a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

The Iowa lawsuit is scheduled for trial in October. However, the judge is expected to rule on the motion for summary judgement in the case sometime this summer.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) also licenses zoos in Iowa and collects a fee annually from Cricket Hollow Zoo to allow its operations. However, IDALS inspectors, who are not licensed veterinarians, have never cited the zoo for any animal welfare violations. In fact, most IDALS "inspection reports" are less than one page in length and often say they found animals at the zoo "active, healthy, and happy."

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