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Cricket Hollow Zoo In Manchester May Be Sued By Animal Rights Group

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MANCHESTER, Iowa -- The owners of an exotic animal zoo in Manchester could face a lawsuit for alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act.

Earlier this week, the California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund sent a letter to Tom and Pam Sellner, owners of the Cricket Hollow Zoo, informing them that the ALDF intends to take legal action against the zoo. The complaint contends the Sellners are violating the Endangered Species Act "by wounding, harming and/or harassing numerous animals at the Cricket Hollow Zoo."

"Extensive photographic evidence, visitor observations and expert analyses indicate that animals of ESA-listed species at CHZ are mentally and physically suffering in cramped and deprived conditions," the complaint states.

The zoo's website states the couple have been caring for exotic animals since 1986 and their numbers top 300 birds and other animals, including tigers, African lions, cougars, bobcat, lynx and servals. According to the USDA, other animals at the zoo include deer, an armadillo, two North American black bears, 40 sheep of mouflons, one red ruffed lemur, four baboons, two rhesus macaques and four grey wolves.

A phone call to the zoo Thursday afternoon went unanswered and the Sellners could not be reached for comment.

Citing United States Department of Agriculture reports, photos and visitor observations, the complaint outlines "atrocious conditions" documented at the park.

- During a 2011 visit, USDA inspectors said the zoo lacked a sufficient number of employees for the 161 animals counted at the zoo. When inspectors returned four months later, they found that the number of animals had increased to 179.

- Also in 2011, a ring-tailed lemur was observed by a USDA inspector to be living alone with inadequate lighting. The inspector also noted open boxes of fruit and produce in the enclosure had excessive flies and appeared to be rotten.

- Visitors to the zoo have noted a build-up of waste in the big cat enclosures. In 2012, visitors witnessed an "emaciated female lion vomiting" and "fly laden meat" in other enclosures. The complaint also alleges that big cats and wolves have not survived through the 2012 and 2013 winters.

- The Sellners are accused of declawing endangered big cats at the zoo, in violation of a USDA policy announced in 2006.

According to the USDA's website, out of four visits to the zoo between July 31, 2013 and Jan. 9, 2014, inspectors tallied 28 "non-compliances." Conditions detailed at the zoo include inadequate watering and shelter, dirty conditions of the facilities and the death of three piglets born to a Meishan pig left out in the cold.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund has offered to assist the Sellners with the alleged issues at the zoo.

"To assist you in coming into compliance, ALDF is willing to help you relocate suffering animals housed at CHZ to reputable wildlife sanctuaries where the animals can receive the rehabilitation and care they so badly need and receive," the letter states.

The ALDF said the complaint can be filed in 60 days.

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