Natural Bridge Zoo Tries to Erase Its Abuse and Shame: Asha is Now "Beautiful"
Natural Bridge Zoo in Virginia is notorious for keeping Asha, a 38-year-old female African savanna elephant, alone in small spaces for most of her life. She is forced to give tragically unaware humans rides on her back as she paces the same circle in a small enclosure endlessly, repetitively, year after year after year. Now this zoo and its owner, Karl Mogensen, want you to forget Asha's abuse by renaming her "Beautiful." Don’t let this deceit fool you.
This roadside zoo has been cited nearly 150 times for violations of the Animal Welfare Act by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service and agreed in 2019 to pay $41,500 to settle six of those violations.
The ongoing abuses Asha has suffered have also landed the Natural Bridge Zoo a shameful spot on In Defense of Animals' 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America list for seven consecutive years.
Virginia legislators almost made it illegal for people to ride on Asha in 2020. Unfortunately, Mogensen got special treatment from a legislator, and Asha didn’t, so she was excluded from an otherwise progressive bill that ended tiger cub petting and similar abuses but continued to permit elephant rides.
It is possible that this is not the first time Natural Bridge Zoo has tried to hide the truth. Another female African elephant, Teaha (aka Tia), was killed in 1996 by Asha three years after arrival. This is not uncommon when elephants are forced to live together, especially in small spaces. For example, in 2016, at Zoo Miami in Florida, longtime elephant resident Peggy fought newly arrived Cita from the Virginia Zoo in Virginia. Cita was gravely injured and suffered through the night, unable to get up, and died slowly. In the wild, elephants are free to choose the elephants they are close to, and for females, their bonds can last their entire lifetimes. Captivity kills.
Teaha was another victim of Natural Bridge Zoo and was killed in 1999 when she was only 14 years young. Natural Bridge Zoo, the serial violator of federal animal care regulations that keeps poor Asha in a small barn in winter and endlessly walking in circles with parasitic humans on her back in summer, will be a dead-end for Asha, too, unless she is released soon to a GFAS-accredited elephant sanctuary. The reality is that there isn't any beauty at Natural Bridge Zoo.
To learn more about why elephants don’t belong in zoos and what we’re doing to help them, check out our Elephants campaign. If you’d like to help us in our efforts to free all animals held captive in zoos, please consider making a donation.