Breaking News: State Revokes Permit for Notorious Roadside Zoo

By on April 3, 2015 with 38 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

I’m writing with encouraging news about the Natural Bridge Zoo, the ramshackle roadside menagerie where our undercover investigation earlier this year exposed the disturbing mistreatment of tiger cubs, monkeys, giraffes, and other wild animals. Yesterday, following a legal complaint filed by The HSUS, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) suspended the public exhibition permit for the menagerie that puts hundreds of sad animals on display and offers photo ops with abused and neglected tiger cubs. This comes just weeks after a searing report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prompted by our investigation revealed 31 violations of the Animal Welfare Act. The zoo will now be unable to open tomorrow as scheduled.

The USDA has also confirmed it has opened a formal investigation and The HSUS has petitioned the agency to revoke the zoo’s federal license. A follow-up inspection in March by the USDA detailed a lack of veterinary care for numerous animals, filthy, foul-smelling, and rusty cages, and muddy enclosures.

The report confirms that zoo owners Karl and Debbie Mogensen, who are professional members of the discredited “Zoological Association of America” (ZAA), continue to pull newborn capuchin monkeys from their fiercely-protective mothers for sale, presumably to the pet trade. The ZAA accredits poorly run roadside zoos, traveling zoos, and private menageries, and promotes the private ownership of exotic pets. ZAA facilities, members, and activities include individuals convicted of felonies, wildlife trafficking, and cruelty to animals. The deceptively-named organization has no affiliation with the highly respected Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

News of the Natural Bridge Zoo’s state permit suspension is a hopeful development for the animals languishing there, but this case also highlights the need for much stronger laws to protect captive wildlife in Virginia and across the country. This past legislative session in Virginia, a bill to ban the possession and breeding of primates by roadside zoos was thwarted by the ZAA and its members. It is insane that these facilities can peddle primates as pets within the state without any animal welfare oversight.

The HSUS and a coalition of animal welfare groups have submitted a petition to the USDA to prohibit public contact with big cats, bears, and primates at roadside zoos across the country. The Natural Bridge Zoo is one of about 75 facilities around the United States that still allow children to pet wild big cats. At the Natural Bridge Zoo, our investigation documented so-called caretakers slapping two tiger cubs, Daxx and Deja. In our video you can see Deja’s head hit a concrete floor as she is disciplined by a man. Both of these cubs were sick with coccidia and giardia but never saw a veterinarian. They were also starved until photo sessions started up for the day, so that their bottle could be used to mollify them during handling.

Our investigator and the USDA documented other severe problems at the Natural Bridge Zoo: a dead giraffe, a dead Mandrill (an endangered primate), a baby camel who accidentally hanged herself, a dead capuchin monkey, and terrible injuries to other animals, including a bone-deep hand wound suffered by a spider monkey. We also found a lone elephant who is confined in a dark barn when she isn’t being forced to give rides to the public.

Both the federal government and the state are taking their oversight responsibilities very seriously, and that’s welcome news. So should consumers, who ought to avoid these operations at all costs. Since the 1970s, we’ve been investigating and exposing substandard wildlife attractions like these, which are responsible for some of the worst animal suffering you can imagine. The violence at a cockfight or a live pigeon shoot is certainly more acute and obvious, but the outcomes for animals at such roadside zoos is almost always bad – typically pain and death for animals who never deserved this kind of enduring privation and misery. We welcome this week’s progress at the Natural Bridge Zoo, but there’s still more work to do to end the abuse of wild animals in roadside zoos and private menageries.

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  1. Carla Oakley says:

    this is certainly wonderful news. What are the options for the animals if they do close??? Will he be able to sell them.

    • Vaishali Honawar says:

      Hi, I am the editor of A Humane Nation. We don’t know yet how long the state’s permit suspension will last, but we have encouraged both state and federal authorities to permanently revoke the zoo’s licenses. It’s too early in the process to speculate what would happen to the animals, but there’s nothing to prevent the Mogensens from keeping or selling the animals.

  2. Sylvia Lewis says:

    Revoking the permit is a triumph, but what punsihment will the owners and perpetrators receive? For me….the most severe punishment allowed in this country would do. Nothing less.

  3. Michelle says:

    That’s great they suspended the license, but what about the animals still there? Will they be removed?

  4. William Rhoades says:

    Special place for these people………right at home with Satan

  5. Cheryl Sadowski says:

    Will the animals eventually be transferred to and properly cared for in other facilities?

  6. Anthony Torres says:

    Please keep up the good work! Hopefully some day we can eliminate all of these locations that abuse the animals. We should put their sorry behinds in a cage,not feed,wash, take care, and treat them the same way they were or not doing to the animals they have under their “care”. Any one and I mean anyone that harms an animal (unless you have to defend yourself/family) is a damn coward and a bully.

  7. Joy Dantine says:

    Bittersweet indeed…

  8. deborah maddy says:

    Close this roadside zoo down asap…..animals should have rights too and this is nothing but cruelty!!

  9. David Bernazani says:

    This is excellent news. I once almost went to this “zoo”, back in my youthful, more naive days, while visiting Natural Bridge. I love animals and was sorely tempted, but I had a gut feeling that I might not like what I saw. Best decision I ever made. I’ve since heard a lot of horrible things about this place. Good riddance.

  10. Kim vakula says:

    that picture of the giraffe laying dead in it’s cell, will haunt me forever

  11. Mark lucas says:

    Animal enslavement is cruel and inhumane. Offenders should pay severily both monetary and jail time

  12. eileen sokolowski says:

    This is so sad God created us and all animals to protect, love, care for, give food and water PLUS medical care. Do not parade the animals around in such filty and inhumane conditions and ban this roadside parade of animals. Let then be free and cared for by loving and compassionate people who will see to it the animals do not die, hang themselves, get fresh air, food and water. Thank-you Mr. Wayne Pacelle for helping in ways that make a difference in an animal’s life.

  13. Rita Mason says:

    I spoke to USDA ‘ S communication officer last month and he told me petitions have no bearing in making them act….I am so glad you were successful in your efforts.

  14. Susan White says:

    Here is another instance where VDACS/USDA allowed animals to be in pathetic condition without straightening it out themselves. It takes national attention for them to do anything. It has been my personal experience with VDACS/USDA that they are not animal friendly but they are in charge of all animals and their welfare. I feel something needs to be done to correct these governmental agencies that do not do their job. I have been involved in several horse cruelty cases in Virginia where VDACS would not allow animal control officers to seize horses that are ready to drop dead with dead horses on the property. I feel It is usually due to the good old boy network. When VDACS finally got a state veterinarian who actually did her job and came on site to oversee seizures of horses in horrific shape, she ended up being let go “due to budget constraints.” This state veterinarian was responsible for convictions in every case with some perpetrators going to jail. To my knowledge there has not been one horse cruelty case since her departure and we all know there are still horses in VA needing help.

  15. Mindy Crider says:

    So happy, but what will happen to these animals now? -praying they get the rehabilitation that they need.

  16. Margaret mile says:

    I am shocked and very angry. I went to that zoo and was going to take my grandchildren. I’m very out angry about that adorable elephant that deserves to be removed and live out her life in a respected zoo or animal reserve that she can have sunlight and be able to enjoy her days just being an old girl instead of being forced to walk around that circle all day on a chain and give rides for them to make bank off of her suffering and they not appreciate her and take care of her. Shame on you nature bridge zoo. Never again will I visit and I surely won’t send children your way.

  17. Sydney Taylor says:

    I’m sick and saddened for these poor animals. Thank you HSUS. I wish it wasn’t too late for the animals that have already suffered and died. Since the 70’s! 40 years! Why are these animals under their “care” still?

  18. Wendy Ysasi says:

    When will the torturous abuse of animals at Natural Bridge Zoo end? What kind of people go to this place to view their suffering? This must END NOW!

  19. Bianca russo says:

    Help free these poor helpless animals. A life of misery all for entertainment. My heart aches and prays for their rescue and release.

  20. Marcia Smith says:

    Please take this seriously. You are the only hope for these defenseless animals. Be their voice. Free them to safe sanctuaries that will show them the love, kindness and care they so deserve. please.

  21. Help end this says:

    I hope they investigate the son of these two and his zoos next.

  22. LeeAnn says:

    All the animals need to relocated to a facility where they the well needed vet care. I really hope you take into the consideration of the health welfare of the animals and relocate them immediately.

  23. Christine says:

    This is wonderful news. Can you fill us in more on what happens next regarding further USDA inspections, etc.?
    I understand that the Virginia Dept of Game & Inland Fisheries (DGIF) has suspended the zoo’s exhibitor’s license, and in order to have it reinstated the zoo must pass two further inspections by the USDA. Do you know if the USDA has any plans for these inspections? If so, will these be unannounced?
    Also, does the VA DGIF base its decisions solely on the USDA’s inspections, or does DGIF ever conduct their own?
    Finally, a simple thank you doesn’t seem adequate, but thank you to the undercover investigator who has exposed the truth. There are no truer words than “a picture speaks a thousand words”.

  24. lori says:

    What will happen to the animals that are there?

  25. Shelli says:

    What is happening to the animals that are still there?

  26. west says:

    kuddos to state personnel!!!!!
    go get them !!!!!!!

    please arrest them if you can and able !!!!

  27. Bev says:

    Who is overseeing these animals now that the zoo is closed? Can they be moved to an animal sanctuary, and if so who has the power to force it? And what sanctuaries can take them?

  28. carolyn aliff says:

    I was just at NATURAL BRIDGE last month and almost stopped at the zoo after walking over to see the bridge. We had a class at the hotel. It was after the snow, and as I started to stop it was sooooo muddy I changed my mind. I’m glad something changef my mind, because if it was that bad someone would have heard about it before I left and then I would have contacted HSUS as well!!!!

  29. Sharon Grevet says:

    Now that the permit has been revoked, what is being done to protect the animals at the facility? Presumably they are receiving even less care and nourishment now that they are not generating income from admissions.

  30. MammaMia says:

    This truly is excellent news. I am happy the right action was taken and I thank you for that. I wish this could be done to all roadside zoos that exploit animals for money. Cub petting should be banned everywhere asap.

  31. Denita Donnelly says:

    It is time!!!! Asha has served her time for this zoo 31 years is long enough Tes has an opening for her please Mr Mogensen let’s get the Vet check on her and retire her to Tes if you and your wife truly love her as you say you do please do the right thing by Asha and retire her . I promise you they have the best experts there to help her and reintroduce her to the other two African elephants at Tes with hundreds of acres to roam free…please retire Asha…Dee Donnelly Founder of An Elephant Calling

  32. Anon says:

    I agree with the spirit of this article entirely, but the IUCN status of the mandrill is “Vulnerable”, not “Endangered”. It is important that accuracy is retained in this respect, or people will not realize the severity and immediacy of the IUCN “endangered” label.

  33. Linda Stith says:

    I’m glad to see this place closed I pray it stays closed .the poor animals are really in danger and not being cared for I hope all these places are closed down

  34. Andrea says:

    You have no links or sources to state anything in this article is accurate. The ZAA is not a discredited organization and in all of my experience with them they have never encouraged exotic pet rrade. Stop spreading hate towards groups when you haven’t done your homework. Don’t group every ZAA establishment together because one might’ve been abusive to their poor animals.

  35. Sally Elms says:

    Thank God first of all, that these pitiful animals are somewhere better now… and many thanks to The Humane Society of the United States, with Wayne Pacelle tirelessly leading the investigations and rescues that save animals everywhere from all forms of cruelty! This is truly wonderful news in regard to that “chamber of horrors” those two people called a “zoo!” However, I do realize that there is always going to be more work to do, if we want ALL animal cruelty to brought to a complete halt!

  36. Shirley says:

    This is extremely sad. Animals need to be taken to a different place. Owners and all staff there need to be punished and starved !!!! Please help those animals. When those people become old they will see ,what comes around goes around!!!

  37. shawn says:

    Please keep fighting! Roadside zoo leaves animal in horrible condition. I personally hates zoo…doesn’t matter if they are big or small. At the end of day, they are trying to make money by playing with animal’s life.

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