USDA Now Has to Defend Renewing Shady Roadside Zoo’s License to Operate

In another victory for animals in captivity, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now going to have to defend renewing a license to a troubled roadside zoo in Iowa that has a long history of animal welfare violations.

The Cricket Hollow Animal Park, formerly known as the Cricket Hollow Zoo, has been in the spotlight in recent years over its failure to properly care for numerous species it holds captive.

According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), the USDA renewed the zoo’s license on the very same day it issued the zoo 11 violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in 2014, and ongoing problems were acknowledged by the agency long before that. By 2015, the zoo had been cited for over 100 violations during five years, including inadequate staffing, unsanitary facilities and poor veterinary care.

Although the USDA did briefly suspend the zoo’s license, the agency’s failure to take meaningful action and allow the zoo to remain open prompted the ALDF and two Iowa residents to file a lawsuit, arguing that the license renewals violate the agency’s own regulations.

Unfortunately, a judge ruled in the USDA’s favor because the agency doesn’t require compliance as a prerequisite for license renewals. As long as a facility says they’re in compliance, the USDA calls it good. This troubling process has allowed it to automatically renew licenses, or “rubberstamp” them for facilities that should otherwise clearly be shut down.

“It’s obvious that licensees cannot be trusted to police themselves, and it is the responsibility of the USDA to ensure compliance with the Animal Welfare Act,” said ALDF Executive Director, Stephen Wells. “To receive an exhibitors license, a facility must demonstrate it complies with the Animal Welfare Act–and the USDA cannot disregard compliance problems that it knows exist.”

The ALDF appealed, and the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia just agreed that the USDA can’t renew an exhibitor license to a zoo it knows is violating the AWA, which overturns a previous dismissal of a case. Now the case is headed back to court, and the USDA is going to have to defend renewing the Cricket Hollow Animal Park’s license.

This latest win follows two other successful lawsuits brought by the ALDF against the Cricket Hollow Animal Park. After suing the zoo in 2014 for violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA), four tigers and three lemurs were removed, and the case helped set a precedent for intervening on behalf of endangered animals living in captivity.

After lions were protected under the ESA, the ALDF went back to court in an effort to move two lionesses from the zoo to a sanctuary, and their effort paid off.

While this case plays out, the ALDF is also going to be working towards changing the USDA’s current license renewal policy, which the agency is currently considering.

For more on how to help, check out the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

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Melania P
Melania Padilla11 days ago

These abuses will stop until people stop going to these places!

Marie W
Marie W17 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

joan silaco
joan s5 months ago


Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D6 months ago

This useless government agency needs to answer for it's blind eye policy. I cannot wait til they say hello to KARMA. You know what they say about karma...

Glennis W
Glennis W6 months ago

Should never have happened Thank you for caring and sharing

Glennis W
Glennis W6 months ago

So horrible and cruel Take them to a nice sanctuary Thank you for caring and sharing

Glennis W
Glennis W6 months ago

Should be closed Deplorable Thank you for caring and sharing

Elaine W
Elaine W6 months ago

Noted this hopeful improvment.

Kelsey S
Kelsey S6 months ago


Carl R
Carl R6 months ago