There are many thousands of private zoos in America. Sometimes people refer to them as roadside zoos. I don’t want to go on about it but they are a symptom of humankind’s failure to properly protect and conserve wild species in the wild. The private zoo is a symptom of an improper relationship between human and wild animal. We can do better.
The words in the title come from Stephen Wells the executive director of the Animal League Defence Fund which represented a group of citizens of Iowa who sued, under the Endangered Species Act, a private zoo called Cricket Hollow Zoo run by Mr and Mrs Sellner. The Endangered Species Act allows citizens to enforce compliance of the Act under certain circumstances and in this instance their civil action was successful.
The US Department of Agriculture had been in consistent contact with this zoo and had made numerous inspection visits and even fined the zoo but it appears that, over a number of years, the department had not done enough to protect the welfare of the animals whereupon the citizens of Iowa took charge.
They obtained an injunction. US Chief Magistrate Judge John Scoles made an order that three lemurs and four tigers be moved to another facility within 90 days. He agreed that conditions at the zoo were unsanitary and that there was a lack of proper veterinary care. The order also prevented the owners of the zoo acquiring new endangered species until they were able to demonstrate that they could to cope.
It seems that the word “cope” is appropriate because Mr Mrs Sellner appear to have acquired too many animals over the years (approximately 300) to the point where they were unable to maintain proper standards. It seems to be a case of wild animal hoarding.
It is believed that the case is unique in that it is the first time a “citizen suit” has succeeded in obtaining an order for the removal of captive endangered species from a zoo. The success of the plaintiff (the group of Iowa citizens who sued) has encouraged them to prepare further lawsuits against other facilities.
Mr and Mrs Sellner are going to appeal the decision but my strong feeling is that they will be unsuccessful and they probably haven’t got the money anyway to do it. I say that because they clearly did not have sufficient funds to run the zoo properly.
The citizen plaintiffs achieved something that the USDA failed to do; something tangible in the interests of animal welfare. The USDA appear to have “kicked the can down the road” since 2006 when they fined the Sellners $4035.
Just three lemurs were living in an enclosure in squalid conditions. Three lemurs is not enough as this animal lives in much larger groups. They must have been highly stressed. As for the tigers, their enclosure routinely contained food waste and excrement build up. It was found by the judge that the deaths of five tigers at the facility since 2013 was due to a lack of proper veterinary care; quite shocking really.
The next problem is ensuring that the animals are moved to a proper sanctuary and not another private zoo of similar, poor quality. It is hoped that the judge supervises matters.
I would like to see more citizens becoming plaintiffs suing the many private zoos which are inadequate in order to force some tangible action in the interest of animal welfare. Personally, I would like to see very many zoo shut down over a long period of time by which I mean that when animals die at the zoos they are not replaced. I would like court orders made along these lines so that the number of private zoos in America is dramatically reduced and true conservation is encouraged. Private zoos have nothing in my opinion to do with conservation.
Source: The Des Moines Register.