Zoo owner lashes out in court at ‘animal rights terrorist group’

Cricket Hollow Zoo in Manchester, Iowa, was shut down in December as the result of a court order. (Photo from Iowa District Court exhibits.)

The operator of eastern Iowa’s shuttered Cricket Hollow Zoo, facing a charge of contempt of court, lashed out Tuesday at what she has called an “animal rights terrorist group” that successfully fought to close the zoo in 2019.

The testimony of Pamela Sellner of Manchester came in the fourth and final day of Sellner’s contempt-of-court trial. She and her husband Thomas are alleged to have violated a judge’s order requiring them to cooperate with rescue groups who were to take custody of the wild animals at the roadside attraction due to numerous allegations of animal neglect.

Pamela Sellner, who was the zoo’s primary manager, testified Thursday that she never knowingly violated the court’s order pertaining to the zoo’s animals, but acknowledged that in the days and weeks before Cricket Hollow was closed, she sold or gave away many bird and animals without maintaining any receipts or other records of those cash-only transactions. She testified that she didn’t recall whom the animals were sold to, what prices she charged, or how the buyers became aware of her interest in selling her animals.

She acknowledged that under federal regulations she needed to maintain records pertaining to the transfer of a wolf, but said the paperwork pertaining to that sale was destroyed when she placed it the pocket of a coat that later went through the wash.

The legitimacy of another animal-transfer record was called into question when a forensic document examiner testified that it appeared the signature of the buyer appeared to have been forged as it “in no way or shape resembled” the handwriting of the purported buyer.

At one point in her testimony, Sellner told an attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the group that initiated court action against Cricket Hollow, that she was angry about being forced to relinquish ownership of the animals.

“It was a very sad day, to think that all the deceit and ignorance of your group can destroy people’s businesses and livelihoods,” she testified. “I spent my entire life putting that (zoo) together for children, and then you came and stole it in a few days. All the money and hard work, and thousands and thousands of dollars in labor that we put into that to make something nice for the people of my community — and you came in and stole it.”

Sellner acknowledged that even after the animals were taken from the zoo and transported to wildlife sanctuaries, she applied for renewal of her state license and attached to her application a note that read: “I’ve been sued by an animal rights terrorist group (ALDF) and they are trying to shut me down and steal my animals.”

Because the trial involves charges of contempt of court, it is considered a “quasi-criminal” proceeding. Closing arguments in the case are expected to be filed in writing over the next two weeks.

 

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.