Virginia Judge Orders ‘Disposal’ of Animals Seized from Natural Bridge Zoo, Citing Cruelty and Inadequate Care

LEXINGTON, Virginia — A significant ruling was made by a judge in Virginia on Friday regarding the fate of animals seized from the Natural Bridge Zoo. Out of the 96 animals confiscated last month following an investigation by the state attorney general, 57 will not be returned to the zoo. The judge determined that these animals were subjected to cruelty or inadequate care, leading to their disposals. The remaining 39 animals will be returned to the zoo due to insufficient evidence supporting their seizure.

The decision was the result of a case heard in the Rockbridge General District Court, presided over by Judge Gregory Mooney. State prosecutors successfully argued that the animals taken from the Natural Bridge Zoo suffered from cruelty or neglect. As a result, the judge ordered that the 57 animals be released for adoption by a humane society or animal shelter.

The ruling followed a thorough investigation that revealed evidence of poor conditions at the zoo. Informants and undercover officers had observed these conditions throughout 2023, leading to the execution of a search warrant by the Attorney General’s office in December. During court proceedings, witnesses testified to discovering deceased animals and animal parts in a freezer on the property, as well as witnessing birds defecating on tortoises and deceased goats in pens during visiting hours.

In response to the allegations, the zoo owners, Karl and Deborah “Debbie” Mogensen, called upon experts in the zoo field to present a different perspective. Their testimony contradicted some of the drastic conditions described by state witnesses. Nonetheless, the judge determined that the evidence supported the seizure of the majority of the animals.

The Natural Bridge Zoo, which is currently closed for the winter, did not provide a response to the ruling. Meanwhile, the judge denied the state’s request for unannounced inspections of the zoo for the next five years.

This ruling marks a significant development in the ongoing legal battle surrounding the welfare of animals at the Natural Bridge Zoo. The decision to dispose of 57 animals and return 39 to the zoo reflects the judge’s determination that a majority of the seized animals were subjected to cruelty or inadequate care. The case highlights the importance of upholding animal welfare standards and serves as a reminder of the consequences for those who fail to provide proper care for animals under their custody.