MEDIA RELEASE: #MeToo at the Zoo: Ride My Sexy Elephant

MEDIA RELEASE: #MeToo at the Zoo: Ride My Sexy Elephant

UPDATED MARCH 24, 2021 to remove original comment from In Defense of Animals


NATURAL BRIDGE, VA (February 27, 2020) – Virginia legislators were given a shocking testimony yesterday by the owner of infamous animal abuse attraction Natural Bridge Zoo, who proudly told legislators that a veterinarian attending Asha the elephant likened her to a Playboy centerfold.

Referring to a vet who had come to examine Asha, Natural Bridge Zoo owner Karl Mogensen told (9.30) Virginia delegates, “[He] was looking at pictures of the elephant, he said this is beautiful, it looks like the centerfold for elephant Playboy.” 

Karl Mogensen has kept female African elephant Asha in social isolation for over two decades at the Natural Bridge Zoo in Natural Bridge, Virginia. Asha is the only elephant in the entire state. Natural Bridge Zoo has a disturbing history of over 100 federal Animal Welfare Act violations and has been listed on the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants list six times.

Asha has previously attacked her handler, and attacked and killed another elephant. Yet she is used by Mogensen to give thousands of rides to people each year, many of them children.

Virginia legislators are currently considering Senate Bill 1030, which would prevent the public from coming into contact with “dangerous captive animals.” Whether or not elephants should appear on that list has become a bone of contention.

A House of Delegates subcommittee voted to pass the bill forward, which would restrict public contact with bears, cougars, jaguars and other animals, including elephants. However, an amendment was passed yesterday to exclude elephants. This is the second time that elephants have been removed from the bill.

In Defense of Animals and Free All Captive Elephants were disappointed by the amendment voted on yesterday by the Virginia House Agriculture Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee to exclude elephants from the bill which is designed to protect the public from dangerous captive animals. The move defies accepted governing and accreditation agencies and puts children at unnecessary risk.

Free All Captive Elephants was disappointed that Delegate Daniel Helmer (D) appeared to be advocating for elephant riding,” says Denise Gaug, J.D., of Free All Captive Elephants. “Helmer is clearly out of touch with the fact that elephants are dangerous animals and direct contact with them is an antiquated practice that has led to the injuries the deaths of over 140 unsuspecting members of the public in 33 states since 1990. It is evident that he either did not do his homework or is not concerned with public safety.”

Elephant attacks are unfortunately common within captive facilities across the United States. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Animal Welfare Inspection Guide defines elephants as dangerous animals, and no zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) offers rides or direct contact. The AZA also mandates “protected contact,” meaning there must always be a barrier placed between people and elephants for safety reasons.

“That the Virginia House Agriculture Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee would vote to put children into a potentially very dangerous situation, by allowing Natural Bridge Zoo to continue offering rides on the backs of elephants to families, is deeply concerning,” continued Gaug. “Asha has been aggressive and has even killed another elephant. The only responsible thing for the Virginia legislature to do is to abide by the USDA definition and include elephants in SB 1030’s definition of ‘dangerous captive animals.’ Anything less is irresponsible.”



Denise Gaug,, 603-494-2565


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