In early December 2023, almost 120 animals were confiscated from Natural Bridge Zoo, a roadside zoo in Virginia, US, as part of an animal cruelty investigation. These included dozens that were dead (such as an alligator, a mandrill, and a green-winged macaw), a white Bengal tiger who a vet said had to be euthanised, sacred ibises, white-faced capuchins, tortoises, and Burmese pythons.

The zoo has been the subject of complaints from animal rights groups and zoo regulators for several years. An investigator with the office of Virginia Attorney General Jason S. Miyares (R) wrote in a search warrant that the ongoing investigation found animals in distress and that the probe revealed the zoo’s elephant, named Asha, had been found standing in a puddle of her urine and faeces because she was chained and could not move away. 

The investigator with the attorney general’s office concluded, “We believe there to be a direct and immediate threat to the health and safety of the animals. There are a number of animals with a lack of food and/or water, unclean or unsuitable environments, a lack of veterinary care, a lack of enrichment and suffering from ill-treatment.”

The official investigation came from information provided by a confidential informant, who was hired at the zoo in March, and who recorded videos and documented conditions at the zoo over several months while working as a groundskeeper.

The zoo is owned by Debbie Mogensen and her husband, Karl. This family has operated several roadside zoos in the area, and Eric Mogensen, the son of Karl Mogensen, formerly owned the Reston Zoo. In 2012, Eric Mogensen’s daughter, Meghan, the former director of that zoo, was found guilty of drowning a wallaby

According to PETA, federal zoo inspectors have cited Natural Bridge Zoo over 150 times since 2000. The issues include alleged mistreatment of a tiger cub that died, slamming guinea pigs into a hard surface to kill them so they could be used for food for large cats, and allegedly failing to seek immediate care for a mandrill that later died.

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.