A New Precedent Was Just Set for Protecting Endangered Animals in Captivity

Animal advocates are celebrating a major victory with a precedent-setting court ruling that upholds the opinion that endangered animals in captivity deserve the same protections as their wild counterparts.

The ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) over the mistreatment of animals at Cricket Hollow Animal Park, formerly known as the Cricket Hollow Zoo, in Manchester, Iowa.

This roadside zoo has been in the spotlight in recent years over its failure to properly care for numerous species it holds captive. In 2014, the ALDF, which was joined by several residents, filed a lawsuit against the zoo’s owners Pam and Tom Sellner for violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in failing to provide adequate care to the animals they were keeping ultimately seeking to have them moved to sanctuaries.

Four endangered tigers and three endangered lemurs were moved to new homes, but more remained behind. After African lions were protected under the ESA, the ALDF went back to court to help two lionesses at the zoo, Jonwah and Njjarra, and successfully had them moved to a sanctuary, marking their second victory against the zoo.

The Sellners appealed the original case, but they just got shut down, and animal advocates are now celebrating another groundbreaking legal win for the ALDF.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals just upheld an Iowa judge’s previous ruling that the Sellners violated the Endangered Species Act and failed to meet standards of care that they are required to meet under the Animal Welfare Act.

“The court’s decision affirms that endangered animals enjoy the same protections whether in captivity or the wild,” said Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “The Eighth Circuit’s ruling puts roadside zoos, circuses, and private owners on notice that they can no longer ignore endangered animals’ unique biological and psychological needs.”

While it should be a given that endangered species status should keep individual animals safe from being left in deplorable conditions where they’re physical and psychological needs aren’t being met, this zoo is sadly only one of many across the U.S. that continue to exploit wild and endangered animals for a profit.

Now, however, this win could help impact legal efforts to intervene on behalf of endangered animals who are suffering as a result of their confines.

“It sets a blueprint going forward to guide other district courts that are dealing with these types of cases as to how they should apply the Endangered Species Act to captive, wild animals, and it does it in a very favorable way for plaintiffs and the animals,” ALDF staff attorney Tony Eliseuson explained to Courthouse News Service. “There are sadly thousands of animals that are languishing in roadside zoos and private homes in the United States and the Animal Legal Defense Fund is going to continue to file lawsuits against these facilities that do not meet the standards of care required by the Endangered Species Act to make sure that the animals move to a proper sanctuary environment.”

Hopefully as more awareness is raised about the ongoing cruelty found at roadside zoos and other facilities like Cricket Hollow Animal Park, more people will stop visiting them and we’ll continue to celebrate a growing list of victories as they’re shut down.

For more on how to support legal efforts to help endangered animals suffering in captivity, check out the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Roslyn McBride
Roslyn McBride2 days ago

Good news.

Sheila Miller
Sheila M2 days ago

Such wonderful news! May the work continue to protect and to care for animals in captivity and in the wild. Animals must be in a natural atmosphere and be with other animals for company.

Val M
Val M2 days ago

ADLF is a great group! . Hope all of those roadside zoos can be shut down..

Linda B
Linda B2 days ago

About time and thank you!

Dalton Grady
Dalton Grady2 days ago

Finally! But why even have our fellow animals in captivity???

Jen S
Jen S4 days ago

This should certainly have an impact on roadside zoos, and private owners, a step with enormous potential.

Megan S
Megan S4 days ago

thanks for spreading awareness

Ruth S
Ruth S4 days ago


Sherri S
Sherri S4 days ago

A big thank you to ALDF for all you do for animals. As for the Sellners, they can rot in hell!

Barb S
Barb Stuckel4 days ago

Stop all animal confinement. It is cruel and needs to stop.