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State

USDA revokes license for Iowa roadside zoo

DES MOINES (AP) — The federal government has revoked the exhibitor license of a northeast Iowa roadside zoo that was previously accused of maintaining deplorable living conditions for its animals.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a decision filed Nov. 30 and made public Monday that Cricket Hollow Zoo, now known as Cricket Hollow Animal Park, has repeatedly violated the Animal Welfare Act. Records show the private facility was cited for more than 100 violations between 2010 and 2015.

“The violations are in such frequency and numbers that a fine is insufficient,” said a decision by Channing Strother, a USDA administrative law judge. “Revocation of the license is necessary.”

Strother also issued a $10,000 fine to owners Thomas and Pamela Sellner. They have 30 days to appeal. Their attorney didn’t immediately return a message Tuesday, and a public number for the zoo went unanswered.

Strother said the Sellners “are hardworking and do not wish to harm their animals,” and although every alleged violation wasn’t proven, “the zoo has had numerous violations over time, requiring repeated visits” by inspection officials.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, a national animal rights group, has filed two lawsuits against the zoo in recent years over conditions at the facility in Manchester. The group argued the owners’ treatment of certain animals violated the Endangered Species Act. Those lawsuits eventually led to the removal of four tigers, three lemurs and two African lions.

Separately, the Animal Legal Defense Fund sued the USDA in 2014 over the agency’s continued licensing renewals for the zoo. The group argued the agency did so despite knowing of multiple violations that included inadequate staffing, unsanitary facilities and poor veterinary care.

A message for a USDA official was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Matthew Liebman, litigation director for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, applauded the USDA’s latest move but said “it’s unfortunate that it took this long.” He said if the decision is finalized, the Sellners will need to give up the remaining animals at the facility.

“Our hope is that law enforcement will step in or that the Sellners will voluntarily relinquish those animals to sanctuaries, and we stand ready to help with that,” he said.

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