116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MANCHESTER - The Delaware County Sheriff's Department confirmed it is investigating a claim by a California animal rights group, which won two lawsuits against the Cricket Hollow Zoo this year, that one of zoo's lions was subjected to animal cruelty before being transferred to a Colorado sanctuary.
The lioness, Jonwah, had signs of emaciation - visible bones and vertebrae - likely caused by extreme hunger and dehydration, the Animal Legal Defense Fund said in a statement last month.
Jonwah was transferred from Cricket Hollow in August to the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado after the zoo's owners, Tom and Pam Sellner of Manchester, settled the second endangered species lawsuit.
The defense fund believes the poor treatment of the animal violates Iowa's animal neglect law, according to Jeff Pierce, an attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
The organization contacted the sheriff's office in October and urged it to investigate. A sanctuary veterinarian's medical evaluation of Jonwah, along with photographs of the lion, were sent to the sheriff's office.
Sheriff John LeClere said this month he has forwarded evidence of the alleged neglect to the Delaware County Attorney's Office to see if charges are warranted against the Sellners. LeClere said the county prosecutor has asked him to gather further information.
The Sellners and their attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
The defense fund said in the statement that Jonwah resorted to eating the hay in her enclosure as a result of not being fed and being without water.
The lion, after being removed from Cricket Hollow, required emergency veterinary treatment because the hay, which is used for bedding and can't be digested property, caused a 'severe” intestinal blockage. The treatment saved her life, the group said in the statement.
Iowa law states that animal neglect occurs when a person confines an animal and fails to supply the animal with sufficient food or water; fails to provide a confined dog or cat with adequate shelter; or tortures, deprives of necessary sustenance, mutilates, beats or kills an animal 'by any means that cause unjustified pain, distress or suffering.”
A person can be charged with a simple misdemeanor for animal neglect or a serious misdemeanor if the neglect causes an animal's death or serious injury.
'Jonwah and Njjarra (another rescued lion) are in good hands now, but what happened at Cricket Hollow is clearly against the law,” Stephen Wells, executive director of the defense fund group said in a statement. 'The Animal Legal Defense Fund is hopeful that law enforcement will take this evidence seriously and hold Cricket Hollow to the standards of Iowa law.
Pierce, the defense fund's lawyer, said the veterinarian that treated Jonwah 'has offered to cooperate in the investigation and, if necessary, to testify at trial, although her preference at this point is to remain unnamed in the press.”
In July, the animal group settled its second lawsuit against Cricket Hollow. A federal judge ordered the Sellners to permit a qualified veterinarian to examine Jonwah and Njjarra, and the settlement followed that examination. On Aug. 1, the lions were transferred to the Colorado sanctuary.
The group also won a previous lawsuit against the zoo over the treatment of lemurs and tigers. The Sellners were ordered by a federal judge to transfer their lemurs and tigers to other Midwest facilities, which could provide better care.
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