WASHINGTON (CN) - Animal rights advocates sued the federal government for repeatedly renewing the license of an Iowa zoo that they claim is replete with inhumane conditions, including animal enclosures filled with feces, undrinkable water and rodent infestation.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund and two frequent visitors to the Cricket Hollow Zoo in Manchester, Iowa sued U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Robert Gibbons, who heads the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, in Federal Court on Monday. They say the agency again renewed Cricket Hollow's license despite horrific allegations of neglect.
"Simple observations of the animals, as well as internal USDA documents, demonstrate that the zoo - which is not even accredited by the accrediting zoo industry organization, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums ('AZA') - is in violation of numerous 'minimum standards' promulgated by the USDA under the AWA [Animal Welfare Act]," the complaint states. "As a result, the animals kept there suffer in barren, cramped, dimly lit, poorly maintained and feces-laden enclosures."
The zoo - owned by Tom and Pamela Sellner - obtained its initial license in 1994; its most recent renewal was in May.
"Nearly all of the animal enclosures at the zoo are poorly maintained," the complaint states. "As a result, enclosures are structurally impaired, undersized, lack vegetation, contain a floor surface of packed dirt and feces, fail to provide adequate shelter from weather and temperature, lack appropriate lighting, and fail to provide adequate enrichment objects for the animals.
"The zoo also keeps open boxes of fruit and produce, which often become moldy and overrun with flies. The zoo often provides the old and moldy food to its animals.
"Not all of the zoo's animals survive Iowa's harsh weather in the zoo's inadequate enclosures. For example, one of the lions at the zoo that had been observed with severely protruding hip and spinal bones in October 2012 died soon thereafter. Three Meishan piglets also died in their barren enclosure during cold weather in October 2013, despite the zoo owners' knowledge that the sow was due to give birth in an inadequate setting."
The group claims the zoo is grossly understaffed, often with only one staff member - one of the owners - seen on hand collecting admission fees.
Tracey and Lisa Keuhl, who are sisters and plaintiffs in the case, say they visit the zoo often to check on the animals.
"[Tracey Kuehl] observed a young baboon named Obi acting wildly and in a bizarre fashion in an enclosure by himself, and lemurs, a serval (wildcat) and several other animals living in sordid conditions that were either the same or had worsened from her previous visit," the complaint states. "The enclosures she observed were still filthy, with some containing standing water and piled-up excrement."
Lisa Keuhl tells an equally disturbing story, stating that "She saw clumps of black and moldy hay everywhere, and it appeared that the zoo owners were feeding the hay to the animals. She also observed the lions and wolves covered with flies, and she saw that flies filled up the interior of the animals' ears. She noted the lions had bite marks from insects, with drops of blood on the lions' faces. While she was visiting the zoo, one of the lions - an excessively thin female - began retching and throwing up a light brown substance."
The Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Kuehls say the renewal of the zoo's license violates the Animal Welfare Act, and want the court to set Cricket Hollow's renewal aside.
They are represented by Carter Dillard, Animal Legal Defense Fund's in-house attorney, in Cotati, Calif.