MANCHESTER, Iowa (CN) - A roadside zoo must surrender its tigers and lemurs to suitable facilities because conditions there violated the Endangered Species Act, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Jon Scoles found Thursday that the Cricket Hollow Zoo's violations "are pervasive, long-standing and ongoing."
Whereas the lemurs suffered from "social isolation, lack of environmental enrichment, and inadequate sanitation," the tigers were deprived of adequate veterinary care and adequate sanitation, the ruling states.
Between June 2013 and July 2015, five tigers died at the zoo, according to the ruling. Two of the big cats had even died in the same month.
"If an exhibitor chooses to keep endangered species, it must assume the obligation - and the cost - of providing such care," Scoles wrote. "I believe Cricket Hollow's failure to provide timely and appropriate veterinary care has delayed or prevented adequate treatment, thus resulting in 'injury' to the tigers."
Judge Scoles noted that, when zookeeper Pam Sellner consulted with her vet about the tigers, she did so over the phone. In one case, according to the ruling, the vet did not visit a sick tiger until he came to the zoo to euthanize it. In another case, he was never told of a tiger's illness or her death.
The court also slammed Cricket Hollow for keeping a pair of ring-tailed lemurs in one cage, with a ruffed lemur housed by itself.
Testifying about the lemurs at a trial in October, the Duke Lemur Center's Peter Klopfer said the isolation these animals faced would leave them "permanently stressed."
In the wild, ruffed lemurs and ring-tailed lemurs like those found in the zoo "never live alone," and instead live in groups of eight to 20, Klopfer said.
"Because living in relative isolation disrupts the lemurs' normal behavior patterns, I believe the housing arrangement at Cricket Hollow constitutes 'harassment' and therefore a 'taking' with the meaning of the Endangered Species Act," Scoles wrote.
Speaking about the ruling in an interview, Jeff Pierce, an attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, called the judge's findings on isolation promising.
Such precedent could be helpful to other actions the ALDF has pending related to an elephant in San Antonio, a chimp in Baton Rouge and an orca in Miami, Pierce said.
Judge Scoles said Cricket Hollow also denied its lemurs environmental-enrichment opportunities.
"The evidence suggests the lemurs received very little in the way of environmental enrichment," he wrote, rejecting claims by the Sellners that they had provided the animals with perches and branches, along with PVC tubes stuffed with peanut butter and nuts.
Judge Scoles also found that the lemurs and the tigers were both plagued by a build-up of feces and other grime in their cages, though zookeepers Pam and Tom Sellner had claimed to clean the enclosures "daily."
"Despite the Sellners' best efforts, cleanliness throughout the Zoo has been a chronic problem," Scoles found. "I believe the Sellners care about the animals housed at Cricket Hollow, and it is clear they are extremely hard working, but they are simply unable to keep up with the demands of caring for 300 animals."
Aside from the Sellners, Cricket Hollow Zoo has no other employees, and Pam and Tom also run a large dairy farm. Tom is employed full-time as a welder as well.