Roadside Zoo With Countless Animal Welfare Violations Finally Loses Its License

At last, there’s a victory for the animals living at Cricket Hollow Animal Park in Manchester, Iowa.

In a decision released on November 30, 2017, U.S. Department of Agriculture administrative law judge Channing Strother found that the zoo had committed “numerous violations” of the Animal Welfare Act, or AWA.

Strother fined the owners, Thomas and Pamela Sellner, $10,000. More importantly, he revoked their exhibitor’s license. Strother determined that it would be inconsistent with the AWA to allow licensees with “chronic violations to continue to operate without sanctions.”

Chronic violations indeed — according to the decision, Cricket Hollow Animal Park has been cited for violating the AWA more than 100 times since 2010. The Animal Legal Defense Fund, or ALDF, has been pursuing action against Cricket Hollow for several years, and this decision may well be the nail in its coffin.

Click here to see a Des Moines Register aerial view photo of this roadside zoo. Not a very attractive place, is it? Here is some USDA inspection footage of a Cricket Hollow bear enclosure:

The only question now is why it took so very long to put this place out of business.

The USDA has “rubber-stamped” the renewal of this type of license for years, says the ADLF. It’s unusual, therefore, for the agency to take an action this severe in response to alleged AWA violations. That fact alone demonstrates how bad the situation became at this “zoo.”

“Cricket Hollow Animal Park has a lengthy history of disregarding the Animal Welfare Act and the Endangered Species Act,” Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells said in a press release. “The decision to revoke its license underscores the severity of the zoo’s violations. Any animal exhibitor that harms animals should have its license revoked immediately.”

The 182-page ALJ decision highlights many violations by Cricket Hollow’s proprietors. Among them:

  • Failing to provide adequate veterinary care to a tiger with cuts and sores on his face and legs
  • Failing to provide adequate veterinary care to several goats and a Barbados sheep with excessively long hooves
  • Allowing a pig to give birth outside in cold weather, after which several of her piglets died from exposure
  • Failing to communicate to a veterinarian medical issues involving a thin capybara and an injured coyote
  • Failing to allow Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) inspectors onto the premises to conduct AWA inspections
  • Failing to provide 30 sheep with wholesome food
  • Failing to remove excrement and debris from the primary enclosures of 88 animals
  • Failing to maintain an effective pest control system in the animal enclosures
  • Failing to develop, document and follow an adequate plan for environmental enhancement of a nonhuman primate that lived alone

The conditions of this place sound shoddy and sad. Clearly, these animals were poorly cared for over a long period of time.

The Sellners defended themselves at the USDA’s administrative hearing by asserting they did the best they could and genuinely cared for their animals. Even so, the judge found that good intentions don’t hold up to the legal test.

A bear in one of Cricket Hollow's enclosures.  Photo credit: ALDF

A bear in one of Cricket Hollow’s enclosures. Photo credit: ALDF

“Being hardworking, having genuine affection for one’s animals and otherwise having a sincere subjective intent to take good care of and not to harm them, and correcting violations after they were found in inspections are all admirable things,” Strother wrote in his decision. “But a good work ethic and good intentions are not defenses to objective AWA violations found by APHIS inspectors.”

This decision is great news for those captive animals still living at Cricket Hollow. Thank you, ALDF for continuing your campaign to get Cricket Hollow’s license revoked. Thank you, Judge Strother making a fair and informed ruling. A decision under the AWA that actually helps animals is rather rare these days, but this is definitely one of them.

Whatever the owners’ actual intentions, if they cannot care for the animals properly, they must find them better places to live and stop displaying them for profit. Common decency demands that much.

It’s good to see agency legal processes work the way they’re supposed to. The administrative law judge realized this was more than a case requiring a fine. The animals need new homes. And now it looks like they’ll get them.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie W7 months ago

thanks for sharing

JoAnn Paris
JoAnn Paris8 months ago


Ruth S
Ruth S8 months ago


Ann B
Ann B8 months ago

BRAVO--they need to be caged for the rest of their lives with straw and no toilet!!! where will the animals go????

Michael F
Michael F8 months ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

Chrissie R
Chrissie R10 months ago

Thank you for posting.

Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapaabout a year ago

Thank you

HEIKKI Rabout a year ago

thank you

Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vagaabout a year ago

that is about time. it should have been closed years ago

Deborah W
Deborah Wabout a year ago

ONE AMONG THE MANY ... finally being addressed, though at the moment inadequately resolved. This zoo has committed many AWA violations, and the owners have FINALLY been fined $10,000 -- AND their exhibitor's license has been revoked. A determination that it would be inconsistent with the AWA to allow licensees with such chronic and numerous violations to continue operating WITHOUT SANCTIONS. What kind of sanctions ... and who will be in charge of oversight to make certain all were being met? Limp indeed. After rubber-stamping this type of license by the USDA for many years, and now, finallly, taking this severe(?) action, clearly indicates the need against such "alleged"(?) AWA violations, a fact that demonstrates how bad the situation has became at just this one zoo. With its lengthy history of disregarding the Animal Welfare Act and the Endangered Species Act, the revoking of this license underscores the severity (how long before "lengthy" gets upgraded to "severe") of the zoo’s violations. Functioning brainware already know that any "exhibitor" causing harm to animals should have its its license revoked immediately. NOT ENOUGH -- Ban exhibitors and sources supplying captive animals. The owners, defending themselves at the hearing, state they did the best they could and genuinely cared for their animals. Even if truth%2