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California-Based Non-Profit, Iowa Residents Sue Manchester Zoo

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The owners of the Cricket Hollow Zoo in Manchester have been sued for alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act.

However, an owner of the zoo said the allegations — ranging from unhealthy living conditions to animals being fed fly-covered food — are untrue.

“They made up lies about all the things they say we did,” said Pamela Sellner, who co-owns the Cricket Hollow Zoo with her husband, Tom Sellner.

Sellner was referring to the California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit organization that filed the lawsuit along with five Iowa residents. The ALDF sent the Sellners a letter in March warning them about the pending legal action.

The 28-page lawsuit claims three violations of the Endangered Species Act — unlawful “take” of a protected species, unlawful possession of protected species and unlawful trafficking of protected species in commerce. The lawsuit alleges the Sellners illegally acquired or disposed endangered animals, including tigers and wolves.

“Extensive photographic and video evidence, visitor observations and expert analyses indicate that members of the ESA-listed species physically and mentally suffer in their cramped and deprived conditions of confinement at the Zoo,” the lawsuit states.

Among the claims in the lawsuit:

l Two lemurs have been confined to “barren, dimly lit and deteriorating cages.”

l Tigers and lions are similarly confined to small cages. One tiger has been declawed and a female lion was observed throwing up. Flies swarm around the lions’ noses and ears.

l The Sellners allow feces and animal waste to pile up in the animals’ enclosures and provide their wolves with “fly-laden meat, rotting food and a dog foodlike substance that Zoo visitors can pay for and feed to the wolves ... through a tube in uncontrolled public feeding.”

The allegations are based on visitor accounts, as well as United States Department of Agriculture reports. 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.

Sellner did not deny she had been sanctioned by the USDA.

“The only thing that’s true is that I’ve been fined before,” she said, noting that the Sellners are appealing some of the USDA’s citations.

However, the rest of the ALDF’s claims are lies, Sellner said.

“If you have a picture of an animal wallowing in feces, I want to see it,” she said.

The lawsuit claims that a lion died in the Sellner’s care. Sellner said a lion — that had originally been seized from a drug house in Florida — did die at the zoo. However, she said the lion was old and had been given proper care.

“I don’t think that’s my fault,” she said. “She had been taken care of more than properly; that’s just the way it was.”

Sellner said the zoo has been in operation for 14 years. The zoo’s website said there are more than 300 birds and animals there.

“All of our animals have names and stories and are part of our family,” the website states. “Most are handraised and socialized with people, so they enjoy the company of our visitors.”

The lawsuit requests that a judge prohibit the Sellners from illegally possessing, acquiring or disposing of endangered species. However, Sellner — who said she has received a death threat this week — said the zoo will go on as normal.

“It’s just business as always,” she said. “It will continue to be that way until something happens and I hope it doesn’t.”

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