CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — The owners of a private northeast Iowa zoo must remove their tigers and lemurs after a federal judge ruled Thursday that they failed to provide appropriate living conditions for the animals.
The ruling gives the owners of the roadside Cricket Hollow Zoo, near Manchester, 90 days to transfer any tigers and lemurs to a facility licensed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Both animals are endangered species. The zoo can still display its other animals, including birds, a camel, sheep and a bear.
The decision followed a lawsuit filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund in June 2014. The suit was filed on behalf of five Iowa residents who alleged the zoo was mistreating animals and maintaining deplorable living conditions that violated the Endangered Species Act.
In the ruling, Chief Magistrate Judge Jon Stuart referred to statements from plaintiffs who said they'd seen animals at the zoo kept in tight spaces, many of which were filled with feces. The lawsuit also said some animals had minimal access to water, and the water that was available appeared to be dirty.
A telephone message seeking comment from the zoo's owners, Tom and Pamela Sellner, wasn't immediately returned Thursday. They previously denied mistreating the animals.
The judge wrote that the zoo's violations were "pervasive, long-standing, and ongoing," and ruled that social isolation, improper sanitation and lack of veterinary care or environmental enrichment for the animals violated the Endangered Species Act.
"If the endangered species are not removed from the defendants' care, then the violations are likely to continue," Stuart wrote.
The zoo owners are also barred from acquiring any new endangered animals until they can demonstrate an ability to care for them properly, according the ruling.
Jessica Blome, a senior attorney with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, applauded the decision but said she wished the judge would have given her organization a role in finding new homes for the tigers and lemurs. Members of the nonprofit have reached out to defense attorneys, she said, hoping the zoo owners will transfer the animals to sanctuaries capable of meeting the animals' needs instead of another roadside zoo.