Cricket Hollow Zoo Loses USDA License


Court Orders Animals From Cricket Hollow Zoo Be Transferred to Sanctuaries

Animal Legal Defense Fund wins lawsuit against Iowa roadside zoo, owners prohibited from obtaining or owning animals

November 25, 2019

DES MOINES, Iowa – An Iowa roadside zoo’s long history of keeping animals in cruel and inhumane conditions is coming to an end.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund will assist in transferring animals from Cricket Hollow Zoo in Manchester, Iowa, to reputable sanctuaries and rescues for rehabilitation. The zoo’s owners have also been barred from owning any exotic animals or wildlife now and in the future.

Today Iowa District Court Judge Monica Wittig found in favor of the Animal Legal Defense Fund in its lawsuit against Cricket Hollow Zoo. The lawsuit, brought in 2018, alleges Cricket Hollow Zoo chronically violates Iowa’s animal cruelty standards. The zoo owners’ routine neglect of approximately 300 animals is well-documented in dozens of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspection reports over the past decade.

In the decision, the court stated:

“The testimony and exhibits provided a picture of exotic animals that are left to eat and defecate in the same areas where they live. Many, if not all of the animals do not have a clean water source constantly available to them. Proper sustenance that is not contaminated is also not provided. These issues are systemic. There is no effort on the part of the Sellners to modify any of their husbandry practices to provide for a better environment for the animals. The Sellners have shown no interest in rectifying problems by hiring informed staff, retaining a properly trained veterinarians and maintaining proper shelter.”

Observers have documented animals — including bears, raccoons, angora rabbits, cougars, a camel, and a llama — kept in cages with rotten food, feces, and dirty, standing water. Baboons, who are intelligent, social animals and naturally live in troops of around 50, are kept in isolation at the zoo. One baboon named Obi was confined alone after being taken away from his mother and died after repeatedly banging his head against his enclosure — a clear indication of distress. Visitors report seeing a capuchin monkey named Cynthia similarly distressed, constantly biting her tail and pulling out her hair. On multiple occasions, Cricket Hollow Zoo even left live animals trapped in their cages with the decomposing bodies of other animals.

Prior to today’s victory, Judge Wittig said in open court that she gagged on the “horrible stench” while touring the zoo for a judicial site inspection, as part of the proceedings in this case.

“Cricket Hollow Zoo is not an isolated case. Sadly, similar facilities, commonly called ‘roadside zoos,’ operate nationwide due to weak laws governing the trade and care of captive wildlife, and even weaker enforcement,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “It is far too easy for unqualified individuals and facilities to obtain wild animals, including endangered species. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is working to strengthen animal protection laws, and we will continue to pursue legal action against roadside zoos like Cricket Hollow Zoo that mistreat captive wild animals.”

In a previous lawsuit against Cricket Hollow Zoo, the Animal Legal Defense Fund set a critical legal precedent: That the Endangered Species Act applies to listed species in captivity, as well as those in the wild. That lawsuit, decided in 2016 by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa and affirmed by a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit in 2018, concerned the treatment of four tigers and three lemurs. An additional Animal Legal Defense Fund lawsuit filed in 2016 against Cricket Hollow Zoo resulted in the rescue of two African lionesses — Jonwah and Njjarra.

A copy of the decision is available upon request from

So did USDA ever do anything?

Sounds like they did not and it was left to ALDF to clean up their mess.

USDA sues Cricket Hollow Zoo in 2015 five years after public outcry of inhumane conditions.

Zoo of Tears: A Look at Complaints at a Local Exotic Zoo

An exotic zoo in the middle of Eastern Iowa is under fire tonight.
Viewers say the conditions in which some of the animals are kept, left them close to tears.

More than 300 birds and animals call the Cricket Hollow Zoo their home, it’s been around for nearly 10 years but not without controversy.

Several families contacted CBS 2 complaining about the conditions at the zoo.  “It’s not even what I call a zoo,” says Kristin Enniss.  “We walked in and from the beginning, we almost turned around,” says Enniss.

Trudy Sherbon went to the zoo as well and felt similar feelings.  “I am a dog groomer and an animal lover, I was disgusted,” says Enniss.

Viewers sent us pictures showing skinny animals, empty water bowls, and animals surrounded by feces.

So we went to investigate, going inside the zoo with a home video camera.
We saw fences falling apart, small cages, and limited water.  While the conditions we saw were not ideal, we did not see what bordered on abuse.

But these families say what they saw was plenty.

“Those poor animals, they can’t speak for themselves,” says Sherbon.

The local sheriff’s department has gotten complaints but cannot do anything.

The nearest humane society has also fielded complaints but their hands are tied.

Turns out the zoo is regulated by the USDA.

The USDA tells CBS 2 that the zoo is licensed but that is all it would release.

Pam Sellner, the owner of the zoo, addresses the concerns.

“I’m not going to say we are a gazillion dollar facility, and it looks like San Diego, its a home, private run facility, but I take great pride in my animal, they are clean, healthy and happy,” says Sellner.

She insists her animals are healthy, saying they work with a USDA veterinarian and a nutritionist.

Sellner says she’s gotten complaints in the past but says people just don’t understand what she’s doing here.

“This is what I do, I spend my time here,” says Sellner.

Sellner says the big animals all have automatic water and the cages are up to code.

“Their minimum standard is the animals have to be able to lie down, stand up and sit in the cage. Our cages are all more than adequate,” says Sellner.

Sellner admits she could make improvements, but says she stands by her animals and her zoo.

CBS 2 has put in a FOIA request to the USDA for complaints, infractions, and any documents regarding the zoo; and we are still waiting for those.

The owner of the zoo says they are inspected annually by the USDA and are subjected to random checks because of the large animals they have.

She says, over the nine years, they have been written up but nothing too serious.  CBS 2 will keep you updated on any documents we receive from the USDA.

An exotic zoo in Eastern Iowa is under scrutiny tonight.  Last week we told you about the Cricket Hollow Zoo near Manchester; families said the animals are hungry, thirsty and kept in poor conditions.  Now, we have documents from the USDA, the entity that regulates the zoo, about complaints and what they found when they went in to inspect.

Reports obtained through The Freedom of Information Act show a number of complaints from families.

“Lion and bear cages too dirty and too small for the animals”
“The living conditions for the animals were terrible.”
“Lie in waste and soiled materials in their primary enclosures.”

Those were the claims, here are the responses from inspectors:

“All animals were found to have sufficient amount of water. However, water receptacles for the dogs, the capybara, the skunks…. and the caracal all had marked algae growth. The facility was cited for this non compliant item.”

” There are clearly some issues that need addressing at this facility….the licensee seemed rather receptive….in making a better environment for the animals.”

During an annual check, done on July 29, inspectors noted:

“Excessive matting on the rabbits”
“Excessive presence of animal waste in the hutch area.”
“The two sheepdogs have been provided one pet carrier as a shelter…this is not adequate shelter.”
“The water receptacles…have excessive presence of algae.”

The faults were to be corrected by August but our visit in October found many of the same problems. Still, the owner says everything is up to code and the animals are healthy and happy.

A number of the complaints to the USDA involved the reptiles at the zoo; they were not investigated because the USDA has no jurisdiction on cold blooded animals.

Monday, November 8 2010, 09:22 PM CST

Cricket Hollow Zoo

Tom & Pam Sellner

1512 210th Street

Manchester, IA 52057

Phone: #563-927-6655