Media Release: Virginia Zoo Shamed on List of 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants

Media Release: Virginia Zoo Shamed on List of 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants

MEDIA RELEASE: Virginia Zoo Shamed on List of 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants


CONTACT: Toni Frohoff, Ph.D.,, 805-836-0496

Rockbridge County, VA (Jan 10, 2016) – In Defense of Animals has released its respected annual list of the Ten Worst Zoos For Elephants for 2016, exposing the shocking hidden suffering of elephants in zoos in North America, and landing Rockbridge County’s Natural Bridge Zoo in second place.

This is the third year in a row that the Natural Bridge Zoo has been shamed on In Defense of Animals’ list and it should by all counts be the last. How much more animal cruelty and how many more violations must occur until this dilapidated roadside atrocity is shut down? Anything but natural, Natural Bridge Zoo continues to be a prison for Asha, the 33-year old African elephant referred to as a “pet” by zoo owners Karl and Debbie Mogensen. Asha is more like their cash cow, forced to give rides in the blistering summer heat to anyone who can climb up on her tired back.

“Asha is suffering horrendously in Natural Bridge Zoo”, said In Defense of Animals President, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick. “Forcing a highly-social elephant to live in solitary confinement is disgusting and unethical. Natural Bridge Zoo is exploiting Asha, violating her rights, stripping her of her dignity, and submitting her to disgusting abuses in its prison. Natural Bridge is a bridge to nowhere, and it is time to shut down this archaic and barbaric zoo exhibit and retire Asha to a sanctuary where she can live in peace.”

Life for lonely Asha consists of complete isolation from any other elephants, coercion using bullhooks, and long, lonely winters in a barn. The city of Richmond recently passed a bullhook ban that will go into effect in 2018, but two hours away at Natural Bridge Zoo, Asha’s keepers continue to use a barbaric bullhook to “control” her.

2016 brought yet another round of USDA violations for this animal house of horrors in August, including the mishandling of Asha by her keepers. Since January 2015, the USDA has visited the zoo five times, finding a total of 62 Animal Welfare Act violations. Back in April of 2014, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries suspended the Zoo’s permit, but could only keep it closed temporarily.

Unaccredited roadside atrocities like Natural Bridge Zoo often fly under the radar, and keep some of the worst wildlife traffickers in business who get away with horrific abuses. The active USDA investigation, and continued attention focused on Natural Bridge Zoo, should lead to the Zoo finally having its license revoked and Asha and the rest of the Zoo’s victims sent to sanctuaries.

Shockingly, more than half of all the captive facilities shamed on the Ten Worst Zoos List are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, showing how little AZA certification stands for. In 2016, the Association’s own study found social aspects of elephant lives to be of paramount importance to their wellbeing, yet 20% of AZA accredited zoos with elephant exhibits have only two elephants. It is unconscionable that Natural Bridge Zoo has gone a step further by keeping a member of this highly social species isolated.

“Zoos are consumers, not conservers, of elephants”, said In Defense of Animals Elephant Scientist, Toni Frohoff, Ph.D. “Captive elephants are dying faster than they can reproduce, leading zoos to steal young elephants from the wild, which destroys the elephant societies zoos claim to be conserving. Behind the scenes, zoos in the US and Canada are condemning Earth’s largest land mammals to lifetimes of deprivation, disease, despair, and early death. It is time to end our shameful exploitation of elephants in American zoos.”

Zoos all over the US and one zoo in Canada appear on the worst list, with Oklahoma City Zoo shamed as the #1 Worst Zoo. The list reveals captivity-related deaths, abuse with weapons, grossly inadequate conditions, families ripped apart, elephants torn from Africa and shipped to US zoos, elephants forced to wash cars, and even elephants found playing with a car battery.

1. Oklahoma City Zoo, Oklahoma
2. Natural Bridge Zoo, Rockbridge County, Virginia
3. Honolulu Zoo, Hawaii
4. Edmonton Valley Zoo, Alberta, Canada
5. Oregon Zoo, Portland, Oregon
6. Buffalo Zoo, Buffalo, New York
7. Wildlife Safari, Winston, Oregon
8. Pittsburgh Zoo, Pennsylvania
9. Milwaukee County Zoo, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
10. Fort Worth Zoo, Fort Worth, Texas

Buttonwood Park Zoo, New Bedford, Massachusetts

Bronx Zoo, Bronx, New York

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In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization with over 250,000 supporters and a 30-year history of fighting for animals, people and the environment through education, campaigns and hands on rescue facilities in India, Africa, and rural Mississippi.

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2016 Top Ten Worst Zoos