The Virginia Attorney General’s Office recently released warrants detailing the shocking findings from an investigation into the Natural Bridge Zoo in Rockbridge County. The investigation, initiated by the Attorney General’s Animal Law Unit in collaboration with Virginia State Police, has uncovered distressing conditions and practices at the zoo.
The warrants, filed in the Circuit Court of Rockbridge County, outline charges related to the care of companion animals, care of agricultural animals, and cruelty to animals. The premises were found to house 95 living animals, along with dozens of deceased animals and various animal body parts.
Among the animals seized were 12 white-faced capuchins, 15 macaws, a serval, Burmese and ball pythons, a mini donkey, and numerous others. Tragically, a white tiger named Zeus was euthanized during the investigation, with zoo owner Debbie Mogensen asserting it was done to end the animal’s suffering.
Gretchen, Mogensen’s daughter and a zoo representative, explained that Zeus had been sick and refusing to eat. A veterinarian was reportedly caring for the tiger, and the decision to euthanize was made.
The warrants do not specify whether other seized animals were already deceased or euthanized during the investigation. A court hearing is scheduled for December 20 in the Rockbridge County General District Court.
The list of deceased animals, animal parts, and property seized is extensive and includes a euthanized white Bengal tiger, a deceased giraffe, servals, a guenon, a mandrill, and more. Additionally, disturbing items such as giraffe tails, zebra pelt, and frozen giraffe feces were confiscated.
A volunteer at the zoo, Lara Watson, vehemently defended the facility, asserting that the animals receive top-notch care in terms of food, water, and attention. However, critics, including Debbie Leahy of the Humane Society of the United States, argue that justice for mistreated animals is long overdue. Leahy describes Natural Bridge Zoo as a “pitiful roadside zoo” motivated by profit at the expense of humane treatment.
This is not the first time the Natural Bridge Zoo has faced scrutiny. In 2017, the facility received several violations from the USDA, including concerns about the treatment of an elephant named Asha. The USDA report highlighted “appalling and archaic conditions” at the zoo, raising concerns about the health and safety risks posed to both animals and the public.
What you can do
Help to save wildlife by donating as little as $1 – It only takes a minute.
This article by Trinity Sparke was first published by One Green Planet on 12 December 2023. Image Credit :Amy Sheehan/Shutterstock.