Troubled Roadside Zoo |Relinquishes Lions

     MANCHESTER, Iowa (CN) — A roadside zoo that lost its tigers and lemurs last February due to violations of the Endangered Species Act has agreed to relinquish its two lions to a sanctuary rather than fight another court battle.
     After animal rights activists The Animal Legal Defense Fund and five Iowa residents won a court victory that led to the removal of defendant Cricket Hollow Zoo’s tigers and lemurs, it focused on removing the zoo’s lions as well.
     The ALDF did not seek to remove the lions in its initial lawsuit because they had not yet been added to the Endangered Species List when the case went to trial in October 2015.
     On July 11th, the ALDF filed its second lawsuit against Cricket Hollow Zoo and its owners, Tom and Pamela Sellner, alleging that the zoo’s two African lions were suffering from lack of proper veterinary care and should be removed. Fearing that the lions could die in their current conditions, ALDF asked for an expedited ruling.
     After viewing video evidence ten days later of one of the lions shivering, unable to walk properly, and panting so hard that she may have been hyperventilating, U.S. District Judge Linda Reade for the Northern District of Iowa granted the activists’ request, setting a trial date of August 1.
     Reade also ordered the Sellners to immediately permit a veterinarian from The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado, to examine the lions, according to court documents.
     After the examination, the parties decided to settle outside of court. On Monday, the Wild Animal Sanctuary took the zoo’s two lionesses, Jonwah and Njjarra, into its custody.
     According to its website, the Wild Animal Sanctuary “is the oldest and largest nonprofit sanctuary in the world dedicated exclusively to rescuing captive exotic and endangered large carnivores, providing them with a wonderful life for as long as they live and educating the public about the tragic plight of an estimated 30,000 captive animals in America today.”
     The sanctuary cares for approximately 400 animals on 720 acres.
     The lionesses were settled into their new home by Wednesday.
     “Jonwah and Njjarra are currently under veterinary treatment in the sanctuary’s Bolivian Lion House,” the sanctuary’s executive director Pat Craig said in a statement. “Their condition is being assessed and treated. Granting their health allows, after rehabilitation they will join an existing lion pride and live out their days in social groups with access to the quality veterinary care that is so necessary for their health and well-being.”
     “Our primary concern is for the lions’ health and well-being,” Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells added. “The success of these lawsuits set a new standard for the way endangered species can be treated in captivity—and we will continue to fight for other animals’ release to reputable sanctuaries.”
     The ALDF has similar Endangered Species Act litigation pending to free a chimp from an amusement park in Louisiana, an elephant from a San Antonio zoo, and an orca from the Miami Seaquarium.
     In addition, the activists’ challenge to a loophole in Iowa law that allows wild animal owners registered with the United States Department of Agriculture to bypass the state’s strict registration requirements is pending in the Iowa Court of Appeals.
     The Sellners’ attorney, Larry Thorson, did not respond to a voice mail request for comment during business hours.

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