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Natural Bridge Zoo animal forfeiture hearing moves forward

An elephant named Asha is shown at Natural Bridge Zoo where she gave rides to 357 people over two days.

A judge ruled against an attorney for Natural Bridge Zoo today, indicating a forfeiture hearing for 95 seized animals will move forward as scheduled.

A search warrant was executed at Natural Bridge Zoo in Natural Bridge, Virginia, December 6-7 by Virginia State Police alleging animal cruelty. Ninety-five live animals and dozens of dead animals and animal parts were removed from the property.

The warrant outlines poor conditions for the animals which were found in filthy habitats with untreated medical conditions and some without food and water. A 12-year-old white tiger was determined to be in such poor condition that he was euthanized by the state's veterinarians immediately.

An elephant named Asha was allegedly forced to give rides to hundreds of people while being threatened with a bull hook. When not giving rides she was given cold baths and chained up in her own urine, documents say. Asha was transported to the Florida roadside zoo Two Tails Ranch in advance of the search and seizure.

Yesterday's unusual hearing was requested by Natural Bridge Zoo's attorney Mario Williams of Georgia.

Key takeaways from the hearing:

  • Williams argued the animals are property that his client Natural Bridge Zoo paid millions of dollars for.

  • Williams complained that one of the biggest problems in the case is that the state's veterinarians examined the animals instead of the zoo’s veterinarians.

  • Judge Norman Moon questioned whether veterinarians employed by the zoo would be neutral and he asked why the zoo didn’t have veterinarians examining the animals before they were seized.

  • Moon asked why Williams thinks the state would shut down a well run operation and why the state’s experts would lie about the conditions.

  • Williams said the implications of Wednesday’s forfeiture hearing are felony charges for the zoo owners, Karl and Deborah Mogensen, and daughter Gretchen Mogensen.

  • The state’s attorney, Michelle Welch, noted criminal charges are predicated on the conditions the animals were kept in regardless of what’s decided at Wednesday’s seizure hearing.

  • Moon asked Williams to name a case where a district court has enjoined a state court under similar circumstances. Williams was unable to name one and asked for more time.

  • Moon said federal courts should not impede on the operation of the state court and any relief the zoo seeks should be made in state court.

Four giraffes were not immediately seized but are listed for forfeiture along with Asha, with tomorrow's hearing set to determine whether the seized animals will be permanently forfeited to the state. Criminal charges are expected to be forthcoming.

Download the judge's order and opinion here:

Download PDF • 317KB


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