A Delaware County judge fined the owners of a controversial roadside zoo near Manchester $ 70,000 and sentenced them to 140 days in prison.
The ruling, released at the end of September, likely ends the latest of several cases involving Cricket Hollow Zoo near Manchester dating back to 2014. The judge’s ruling came a day after the Iowa Supreme Court refused to hear the case after a court of appeal. ruled that a 2019 district court ruling should stand.
More than 100 animals were missing when animal rescue groups removed animals from the property in December 2019.
Tom and Pam Sellner ran the zoo. Four women sued the couple in 2018, claiming the zoo was a public nuisance due to its neglect of the animals.
After a five-day trial in 2019 which included a visit to the zoo, Judge Dubuque Monica Wittig ordered hundreds of animals to be removed from the property. Wittig wrote at the time about the property’s “horrible stench” and said after seeing the animals it was “very difficult to go to lunch”. Wittig also banned the Sellners from buying exotic animals.
Missing: 2 pumas, 5 grizzly bears, 4 macaws, others
More than 400 animals were recovered from the property in December 2019, including 13 llamas, 10 parakeets, eight sugar gliders, seven mini horses, six goats and 15 sheep.
The California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund filed for contempt of court in January 2019, arguing that at least 110 animals were missing, including two pumas, five grizzly bears and four macaws. Five kinkajous, a rainforest animal related to raccoons, and six degus, Chilean rodents, were also missing, the group said at the time.
ALDF lawyers and Des Moines lawyers represented the plaintiffs on an ex gratia basis.
Wittig wrote in Wednesday’s ruling that Pat Craig, of a Colorado wildlife sanctuary that would take care of camels, coyotes, llamas, pumas, foxes, bears and mules, noticed the animals were recently in the zoo facilities due to traces of food and droppings.
“He also observed multiple footprints, tire tracks and crevices in the ground from a skid steer loader that looked cool in the wet ground,” Wittig wrote.
Cara Donels, an ALDF lawyer, found several of the animals for sale online, Wittig wrote. The kinkajou were listed on ExoticAnimals.com for $ 2,300 and on sale on Facebook in October 2019, Wittig wrote.
Animals sick, hungry and many died
Rescuers checked the cages twice on December 9, 2019, but on their return found new skunks, birds, coati mundi and sugar gliders. A gecko had to be kept warm with a water bottle filled with hot coffee because it was very cold, Wittig wrote.
The mice and rats found were euthanized due to their poor health, Wittig said.
“They had a variety of infections and parasites were present,” Wittig wrote. “Their bodies showed signs of malnutrition.”
Several animals have died after being illegally sold or given to people by the Sellners, Wittig wrote. The judge questioned the testimony of several people who testified during the contempt proceedings.
A woman perjured herself when she testified that the missing animals had been sold, Wittig wrote. The woman actually took possession of two ferrets, sugar gliders, fennecs, hedgehogs, guinea pigs and chinchillas. The fennec fox died after returning to the property.
Another exhibitor from Ohio said the Sellners showed his mountain lions, bears and other large wildlife at Cricket Hollow. This exhibitor is prohibited from owning wildlife in Ohio, so he moved them to Indiana. Two bears died along the way because they were malnourished during their hibernation, Wittig wrote.
“It is not the act of a person raising bears because if you did, you would know not to feed a hibernating bear,” Wittig wrote. “It’s more the conduct of a person making money with his offspring.”
A male mountain lion belonging to man has died.
Wittig gave the Sellners an additional 30 days to return the animals and reduce their fines and jail time.
“The defendants provided less than credible testimony about what transpired between the time of trial, the issuance of the court order, and the two-day rescue in December 2019,” Wittig wrote.