Public Safety

Judge will allow animal rights' vet to examine Cricket Hollow Zoo lions

Animal Legal Defense Fund granted part of injunction

Njjarra, an African lion, relaxes in his cage at Cricket Hollow Zoo, a private zoo near Manchester, in this undated phot
Njjarra, an African lion, relaxes in his cage at Cricket Hollow Zoo, a private zoo near Manchester, in this undated photo. (File)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A federal judge Friday ordered owners of the Cricket Hollow Zoo in Manchester to let a veterinarian examine two African lions they are being sued over.

Zoo owners Tom and Pam Sellner agreed during a hearing Thursday to permit a qualified veterinarian to examine the lions, which a suit accuses them of endangering.

The court took the issue under advisement and filed a ruling later.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund of California, which won an earlier lawsuit against the zoo, filed a second lawsuit focusing on treatment of the lions. The group sought an injunction allowing a vet to examine the lions, classified as an endangered species, which it asserts are not receiving proper care.

The group and five Iowans filed the new suit this month after first offering to hold off legal action if the Sellners would allow them to pay for moving the lions to accredited sanctuaries.

After losing the first lawsuit, the Sellners were ordered by a federal judge to transfer their lemurs and tigers to other Midwest facilities,

In filing the second suit, the defense fund asked the court for a preliminary injunction immediately transferring one of the lions, named Njarra, who is exhibiting signs of respiratory distress and impaired mobility, to receive emergency care.

Or as an alternative, the defense fund agreed, the court should have a vet visit the zoo and examine the lions to determine the next steps.

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U.S. District Judge Linda Reade said she would grant an order allowing a veterinarian access to the zoo and to communicate with the group about its recommendations. The court found there is a “threat of immediate and irreparable injury” based on affidavits provided by veterinarians and other animal professionals, who described conditions of the lions’ care.

Megan Ross, senior vice president at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, said in an affidavit that Njarra appears thin, has poor body condition and displays abnormal posture, the ruling noted.

The order expires Aug. 4, which gives the Sellners time to respond to the complaint.

In U.S. Chief Magistrate Scoles’ 73-page ruling in the first lawsuit, he said the Sellners’ violations are “pervasive, long-standing and ongoing,” and if the endangered animals were not removed, the violations likely would continue.

An expedited trial date in the second lawsuit is set for Aug. 1.

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