More Than 100 Animals Seized From Roadside Zoo During Investigation

( — The Natural Bridge Zoo in Rockbridge County, Virginia, has been a popular roadside fixture since it opened in 1972. Their stated purpose has been the “propagation and rearing of threatened or endangered species,” and they say that they try to offer the public opportunities to experience and learn about animals.

On Wednesday, December 6, the zoo was wrapped in crime scene tape as investigators with warrants searched the property for evidence of neglect and abuse of the animals. At least 89 living animals were removed from the property, as were 28 dead ones. A white Bengal tiger was examined and ultimately euthanized to relieve it of its suffering, with consent from the owners.

The Virginia State Police have been assisting the Office of the Attorney General with the investigation. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring created the nation’s first attorney general’s animal law unit in 2015, which partners upon request with local law enforcement or the local Commonwealth’s Attorney to offer support and prosecution of animal cruelty cases. According to the warrant, the investigation was a response to an informant who worked for the zoo. The attorney for the zoo’s owners, Mario Williams, says that the zoo will be fighting all the criminal charges “one by one” and has called the animal seizures an abuse of authority.

This is not the first time the Natural Bridge Zoo has been in trouble. In 2015, there was an undercover investigation led by the Humane Society, and the zoo’s exhibitor’s license was revoked by the state. The owner, Karl Mogenson, claimed that he was being targeted by animal rights activists. The elephant keeper, Mark Easley, has also come under fire with allegations of mistreatment of the zoo’s star attraction, the African elephant Asha, who the confidential informant says has been known to carry up to 191 people in one day for the popular elephant ride attraction.

Also, in 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued more than 150 citations to the Natural Bridge Zoo for issues regarding sanitation, housing facilities, and the handling of their animals. PETA, the Humane Society, and animal advocacy group One World Conservation have been working to improve conditions or permanently shut down the Natural Bridge Zoo for years.

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