We recently won a lawsuit against a roadside zoo in Iowa that has lemurs, tigers, lions, bears and other animals in rural Iowa. Because of the documented substandard conditions of the zoo, our organization, the Animal Legal Defense Fund was able to convince a judge to order release all of the endangered animals. We’re still negotiating specifics, but we hope to get these animals to reputable sanctuaries where they will be able to live out their lives in humane conditions. Ask us anything!

Proof is here, and here.

Edit: My co-counsel Jeff Pierce (JeffALDF) is joining the conversation to answer questions about this case. AMA.

Edit 2: For more background on this case, check out this Des Moines Register story.

Edit 3: Taking lunch for about an hour, but we'll be back at 1:30 p.m. PST to pick up where we left off.

Edit 4: We're back—ask us anything!

Edit 5: We'll be signing off at 5 p.m. EST, but feel free to leave questions and we'll check back periodically tonight. Thanks again!

Comments: 111 • Responses: 28  • Date: 

GummyBear2518 karma

Do you think a large, well-maintained zoo is a good thing? Are there any positive benefits of zoos? Do they outweigh any negatives?

JeffALDF38 karma

Fair question! We don't really work in categories, we're not working to take down all small zoos or uphold (or eliminate) all large zoos. Certainly we can agree that the larger, better resourced, bigger staffed zoos can provide more for their animals--but we evaluate the zoos individually, and sometimes even their animals individually. For example we've got a lawsuit now against the San Antonio Zoo, which isn't at all a roadside zoo like the one in the lawsuit that's the subject of this AMA. Our lawsuit against the San Antonio Zoo is only over their Asian elephant Lucky, whom they cruelly confine in total isolation from other elephants. So I think it's more fair to say that we oppose certain conditions of confinement, and we want to see zoos responding to new research about animal cognition, sentience, emotionality (is that a word?), sociality, etc. in evaluating whether asking animals to be ambassadors for their wild counterparts is fair.

GummyBear259 karma

Do you have opinions about the LA zoo?

JessicaALDF16 karma

We approach every zoo differently because some zoos can put together proper enclosures with appropriate enrichment, food, companionship, etc. Others, cannot. We recently filed a friend of the court brief in support of a local resident's attempt to liberate the LA Zoo's captive elephants. The LA Zoo may do right by some animals, but we don't think they can properly care for their elephants.

Edit: formatting.

madjoy17 karma

This may not be the kind of question you're looking for, but I'm curious if you have any suggestions.

What path might you recommend for a lawyer experienced in non-animal-rights-related legal work (e.g., criminal law) to break into the world of animal rights law?

JessicaALDF19 karma

The director of our criminal justice program is a former prosecutor -- he now helps prosecutors go after cruelty cases. Getting professional experience, and applying it to help animals is always a good way to go. Here's a resource on our website.

Unconfidence17 karma

There is a truck stop called Tiger Truck Stop in Louisiana, along I-10. They keep a tiger there in a small cage for entertainment. I was wondering if you guys had any specific plans or actions taken toward this truck stop, and if so would you mind explaining as a sort of example of how this stuff goes?

JessicaALDF32 karma

ALDF has led the fight to free Tony the Tiger. We started many years ago by suing the state licensing authority for failing to ensure Tony was living in a licensed facility with an owner who was obligated to abide by the state's humane standards of care. We won that litigation, and Tony should have been freed. But then the Louisiana Legislature passed a law specifically exempting Tony from the licensing requirements and permitting his (and only his) owner to own a tiger in Louisiana. For the details, check out ALDF's features page. Look for more litigation in the future from ALDF as we work to get Tony's special exemption overturned. We will never stop fighting for Tony.

Edit: formatting.

Unconfidence12 karma

Thank you so much for this. I've been advocating for his release independently for some time, I'd no idea that the LA state legislature had gone to such extremes to continue their cruelty.

Is there any hope of repeal with Bel Edwards at the helm?

JessicaALDF8 karma

We do hope the change in administration will benefit Tony. We're looking at legislative options as well as further litigation options.

d_fens9913 karma

What do you think of the efforts by Ric O'Barry and how Seaworld treats its animals?

JessicaALDF26 karma

For more information about ALDF's involvement in SeaWord, here's a link to the story about the California Coastal Commission prohibiting SeaWorld San Diego from breeding orcas as a condition to obtaining a development permit. The Commission agreed to impose that condition after hearing an entire day of testimony about how terrible captivity is for orcas. For example, orcas are known to swim more than a hundred miles a day and dive hundreds of feet in search of food. Even in an expanded tank at SeaWorld the orcas would only be able to dive fifty feet while swimming in endless circles in a concrete tank. In other words, captivity in conditions like those at SeaWorld can never be considered humane treatment of animals.

deathbatcountry13 karma

What has been your hardest legal battle in defense of animals?

JessicaALDF24 karma

For me, the most difficult legal battle is really the political fight wrapped up in every legal decision-making process. Even judges and juries feel passionately about animals, animal welfare, animal rights, and property rights. When we are deciding whether to bring a case, we have to consider those passions and the locality where we might file, which is frustrating because animals are suffering everywhere. For the Cricket Hollow Zoo case, which is the subject of this AMA, we wondered if Iowa was willing to take the Endangered Species Act to the next level, whether Iowa would be willing to apply the ESA to captive wildlife for the first time ever. Iowa is a state notoriously beholden to the "animals are property" industry professionals who profit enormously off animal suffering, so we were understandably worried. But this judge was brave in his conviction to uphold the law and do right by these animals.

satosaison13 karma

Do you have pro-Bono opportunities for lawyers interested in helping the animal rights cause?

JessicaALDF14 karma

We do, thanks for asking. Here's a resource on our website with information about joining our Animal Law Program.

Crumps12 karma

The ruling is out and the zoo is losing their endangered animals. Are there any measures being implemented to help prevent the zoo from acquiring more endangered animals to neglect once they've faded from the spotlight?

JessicaALDF17 karma

This is a great question! In addition to ordering the zoo owners to transfer their animals, the judge imposed an order prohibiting the zoo owners from owning endangered animals any time in the future without a court order. Because ALDF and the other plaintiffs are party to the order, we will be able to participate in that process, which means we will have an opportunity to prove the zoo owners still cannot properly care for any endangered animals they seek to own in the future. And as a practical matter, it would be very costly for the zoo owners to seek that level of court approval. I am cautiously optimistic that they will opt out of even attempt to get an endangered animal ever again.

dynamite_goat3 karma

Have you made any effort to decide what happens to the animals, and what is it?

JessicaALDF3 karma

The judge ordered the zoo owners to transfer the endangered tigers and lemurs to a USDA licensed facility that could give them appropriate care for their needs within 90 days. We will do everything we can, including potentially filing a request for a third party to oversee the selection of the new facility, to make sure the animals are retired from the entertainment industry entirely and go to sanctuaries.

thistangleofthorns10 karma

I'd like to help your team in any way that I can. Is there something we can do to get involved (sign petitions? volunteer?)

Thank you for all that you do; I think your efforts are our best possible chance to get real positive change for animals.

JessicaALDF8 karma

Yes, definitely. Our action alerts are a really great way to help, we often need to get people to contact lawmakers in support of animal friendly legislation, or to stop businesses from conducting cruel practices.

EvanYork5 karma

If you live near a law school, you could always contact a student chapter to see if they need any help.

LovesRoux10 karma

So do you think all zoos should be shut down? Is keeping any animal in captivity inherently cruel? If so (or if not) do you consider yourself radicals?

JessicaALDF40 karma

We at the Animal Legal Defense Fund believe that all animals deserve to live their lives in their natural environments, with their natural companions and family infrastructures. Yes, keeping animals in captivity is inherently cruel--especially social animals like non-human primates, marine mammals, and large carnivores--because they are deprived of their mates and because even the best zoos and aquariums could never approximate the ecosystem of their natural habitats. We don't consider ourselves radicals because we use the court system to advocate on behalf of animals, while corporations with millions of dollars are using the vary same system to advance their "animals-as-property agenda," which results in the suffering of billions of animals worldwide every day. Our position isn't radical. I'd argue theirs is.

TTTT278 karma

Where does your funding come from?

JessicaALDF11 karma

From people like you! Most of our funding comes from member/supporter donations. We are truly and immeasurably grateful for any and all donations we receive. Each donation has a tangible effect and improves the lives of animals, as with the seven freed animals at the Cricket Hollow Zoo. We also get a small amount in the form of grants from private foundations whose purpose is advancing animal welfare and environmental health.

TTTT278 karma

Where do you stand on the concept of "animal personhood"?

Are you vegetarians? Do you think everyone should be a vegetarian?

JessicaALDF32 karma

ALDF strives to advance the concept of animal personhood in everything we do, but we don't think it's a politically controversial subject. The industrial machines that profit from animal suffering want you to believe that animal personhood means that animals will have the same rights as people, but that's not what it means. We want animals to be recognized as legal persons, that is we want animals to be able to assert their rights to humane treatment, autonomy, and self in court--just like corporations do (though they definition of "humane" has more to do with taxes). Everyone who works for ALDF eats a plant-based diet and refrains from economically supporting any animal products, so in short, we are vegan. Ideally, everyone could be vegan, but we recognize that is not realistic, so we advocate for everyone to do as much as they can in order to improve the lives of animals. If everyone ate a plant-based diet two days a week, we'd save millions of animals across the world in one month alone.

aoife_reilly4 karma

Is it a company rule that all staff are vegetarian/vegan? Or just the way it happens to be? I'm just wondering does it prohibit non veggie lawyers and legal experts from getting involved?

Also, I really admire you guys youve done done amazing things for the voiceless.

JessicaALDF23 karma

It's not a company rule, but everyone follows a plant-based lifestyle. We would be violating the professional ethics code if we ate our clients!

Many of our human clients and experts eat animal products. We won't turn anyone away who wants to help!

two_off7 karma

What are your opinions of the other major groups of animal activists? Do you feel that they all positively contribute to animal welfare and the perception that animals deserve better rights?

JessicaALDF6 karma

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals. There are many animal protection organizations that tackle similar issues as ours, but we are the only organization that does so exclusively through the legal system.

oneawesomeguy1 karma

Doesn't Humane Society US also operate through the legal system? Primarily through the legislative side?

JessicaALDF3 karma

HSUS does a lot of great work, including through civil litigation and arguably the best legislative network of any non-profit corporation anywhere. But they do not focus exclusively on legal solutions in the same way that ALDF does. They also have education campaigns and referendum initiatives. ALDF's mission is to focus on changing animals' status as mere property under law to something more, and that's it. We do that through criminal, civil, and legislative advocacy, and most uniquely through the advancement of the field of animal law (for more check out our Animal Law Program).

EvanYork6 karma

I'm in law school right now and strongly considering a career in animal law, do you have any advice for getting into the field?

JessicaALDF8 karma

Check out our short video, "So you wanna be an animal lawyer."

HighTop6 karma

With the FBI now collecting data on 4 types of animal cruelty to be reported in their yearly Crime Report, do you think local law enforcement agencies will take cruelty to animal cases more seriosuly?


(Thanks for all your help with protecting the welfare of animals!)

JessicaALDF8 karma

Absolutely, yes. Crime statistics compiled by the FBI are the foundation of key policy choices and resource allocation decisions. With animal cruelty data now subject to collection, policy makers will no longer be able to claim ignorance as a justification for less than ideal responses to this important issue. Moreover, the mere fact that the FBI has included these four categories of animal abuse in its reporting protocol only serves to validate the enforcement of state laws targeting this misconduct, making it all the harder for prosecutors aggressively investigate and prosecute these cases.

Cancerian8085 karma

Is there anyway you could get a higher standard for zoos? Like each animal needs at least x amount of proper acreage, they need private areas for themselves, ect. I think zoos are good for learning, but only if the zoo gives the animals what they need. Which many zoos do not..

JessicaALDF4 karma

We agree! We are working to improve the lives of animals by submitting requests for new legal standards to the United States Department of Agriculture. The USDA is responsible for ensuring roadside zoos (and puppy mills and research facilities) treat their animals properly, but the USDA is notoriously captured by the industry it is supposed to regulate. In 2010, the Office of Inspector General conducted an audit of USDA and concluded that the Animal Welfare Act--the law that governs the humane standards for these facilities--is completely ineffective at ensuring animal welfare because the USDA simply does not enforce it.

[deleted]3 karma


JessicaALDF7 karma

Yes absolutely. Professor Justin Marceau, who serves as Of Counsel to ALDF's Litigation Program, recently wrote an amicus brief in support of a chimp named Tommy. ALDF may not bring affirmative writs of habeas corpus on behalf of animals right now, but our recent victories demonstrate that legal rights can be attained through other means. Indeed, the judge in the Cricket Hollow Zoo case found that lemurs have a right to live in social colonies under the Endangered Species Act. To deprive them of that right constitutes unacceptable harm. The right to family groupings, to socialization, to be free from isolation seems so simple and obvious, but the judge's recognition was groundbreaking. We will use this victory to help liberate Lolita the orca, Lucky the elephant, and Candy the chimpanzee.

frostyfoxx2 karma

How can someone without a law degree get involved with helping actual changes be made for animal rights? Aside from monetarily supporting people like you, and protesting. Is there anything we can do besides those things? I want to get involved! Also, it's amazing what you guys are doing, thank you for the work you do.

JessicaALDF5 karma

Honestly, whenever non-lawyers approach me about what they can do, I encourage them to report any instances of animal mistreatment they see to local authorities AND to a non-profit like ALDF. Usually, we can find a civil option to criminal prosecution to help the animals. Here, for example, several citizens just visited the Cricket Hollow Zoo for fun one afternoon. They were so disturbed by what they saw there, they started an advocacy campaign to liberate the animals. And that's how we found them! They then helped us file the lawsuit against he Cricket Hollow Zoo to liberate seven endangered animals living there. So, if you see something...say something!

dynamite_goat1 karma

Do you believe that humans are animals?

JessicaALDF12 karma

Yes. Discovery Kids thinks so, too!

WNW31 karma

I've only seen two animal parks I felt were sub-standard. The Rumford Zoo in Maine made me very sad when I was a small child in the 80's, and the Seaside Aquarium in Seaside Oregon seemed like a bad place for animals when I was a teenager in the 90's. Are either of those places on your radar? Are they on anyone's radar? Are they not bad now?

JessicaALDF3 karma

Thank you for these suggestions! We are not currently monitoring these particular zoos, but we will start doing so now.

ResoluteSir1 karma

When you look at the scale of things, what stops you from seeing your actions as trivial?

JessicaALDF5 karma

When we have a tangible victory, as we do here where four tigers and three lemurs will be rehomed, I am invigorated and want to keep going. Incremental change takes a long time, and I wish we could fix everything now. For now, though, we should all delight in the fact that these seven animals will have new homes!

BlueGold1 karma


JeffALDF4 karma

I've discovered that hunters are fond of the platitude "hunting is conservation." The Animal Legal Defense Fund is skeptical however about any human endeavor that effectively instrumentalizes animals. At the same time, we're not purists! We seek good outcomes and work with everybody, because we recognize the ambiguity--moral, political, and otherwise--inherent in the real world.

JessicaALDF5 karma


I'll add that I personally work on a lot of native hunting work for ALDF. I am working on a few cases to combat the scorge that is Wildlife Services, and I have at least once successfully stopped a coyote killing competition. We find allies within the hunting community when fighting the most abhorrent practices, so we definitely aren't purists!

BlueGold1 karma


JessicaALDF2 karma

Wolf reintroduction is probably one of the most controversial subjects in conservation circles. On a personal level, I fully support wolf reintroduction in the west, including where I live in California. But the best we will get is wolf migration from their reintroduction site at Yellowstone National Park. So far, that reintroduction effort has been wildly successful (in August, a wolf pack made it to Shasta County, California).

Property rights are significant factors in the prevention of additional wolf reintroduction plans. Ranchers definitely have the most power, but local citizens also complaint about wolves killing their pets and attacking humans (both extremely rare occurrences in North America). In addition, hunters are avid in their belief that increased wolf populations mean less ungulates for humans to kill for sport. But science shows that climate change and human-caused habitat loss are more substantial causes for the decline in ungulate populations.

In an earlier post, I lamented the fact that politics are often the most difficult legal challenge I face and wildlife/conservation issues are no stranger to political strife. I wish everyone could objectively review scientific literature at it emerges, but sadly most of the hunting/ranching/conservation community still believe that the wild needs to be "managed." If left to its own devices, the wild will be just fine.

wolfereen1 karma

Do you also educate about animal rights?

JessicaALDF5 karma

We do! At least 1/3 of our annual budget goes toward educating citizens, law students, and practicing attorneys about animal law. We give regular presentations at conference, host a the National Animal Law Competition each year, and give an annual Animal Law Conference in conjunction with the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. For more information, check out our Animal Law Program.