Cricket Hollow Zoo appeals federal court ruling; status of endangered animal removal uncertain

The owners of the troubled Cricket Hollow Zoo have appealed the federal court ruling issued Feb. 11 which ordered removal of the zoo's lemurs and tigers because of inadequate veterinary care and sanitation for the endangered animals.

Owners Tom and Pamela Sellner, of Manchester, filed the notice of appeal with the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis March 9. The appeal seeks to reverse the lower court decision, halt the removal of endangered animals from the zoo and lift the court's order prohibiting the Sellners from adding endangered animals to their roadside zoo.

A briefing schedule before the federal appeals court has not yet been set.

The ruling in February capped nearly a two-year legal challenge filed by sisters Tracey and Lisa Kuehl, three other individuals and the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) against the zoo. The facility has been cited repeatedly for dozens of Animal Welfare Act violations, and the zoo owners were fined more than $10,000 by the USDA for inadequate care at the facility between 2011 and 2013.

The federal lawsuit was filed in June 2014, and a week-long bench trial was held in Cedar Rapids last October.

In the February ruling, Chief Magistrate Judge Jon Stuart Scoles stated "social isolation, lack of environmental enrichment and inadequate sanitation provided to the lemurs constitutes 'harassment' within the 'taking' provision of the Endangered Species Act," and he concluded the tigers "were 'harmed' by the inadequate veterinary care and 'harassed' by the failure to provide adequate sanitation."

Under the ruling, the endangered animals were to be removed from the facility within 90 days, which would be May 1. With the appeal, it is expected the owners will seek a stay of the order from either the federal district or appellate court before the May 1 deadline.

In a related legal matter, the Kuehls and ADLF lost a federal case in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. which had argued the USDA should not be permitted to renew the annual federal license for Cricket Hollow because of the zoo's "serious and flagrant" violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

In its March 14 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly dismissed the case saying "the regulatory scheme under which the agency renewed the license of the Cricket Hollow Zoo embodied a permissible interpretation of the relevant provisions of the Animal Welfare Act."

"Plaintiffs clearly disagree with the agency's choice, but that does not transform the result into an absurd one. Nor does it transform the regulatory scheme into an unreasonable one," the judge ruled.

The zoo still faces possibly it most serious legal challenge before the USDA's own administrative review board, which issued a complaint against the owners last July alleging willful violations of the Animal Welfare Act. The case, which is still pending, could lead to revocation of Cricket Hollow's federal zoo license.

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