© 2023 WMRA and WEMC
WMRA : More News, Less Noise WEMC: The Valley's Home for Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Natural Bridge Zoo Passes the Test, Reopens


The embattled Natural Bridge Zoo, which was shut down by the State Game Commission back in March, is once again open for business. WMRA’s Jessie Knadler has the story.

It’s been a long three months for Karl and Debbie Mogensen, owners of the Natural Bridge Zoo. In March, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries suspended the zoo’s license to exhibit wild animals. The state agency used a USDA inspection report from January to conclude that, “many of the animals are confined under unsanitary and inhumane conditions.”

Since the Zoo, which is not accredited by any zoological organization, was shut down, the Mogensens have been trying to come into compliance with the Animal Welfare Act. Among the changes: Spending $35,000 on the creation of a new veterinary care program, and getting rid of a controversial exhibit that allowed patrons to pose for photographs while holding baby tiger cubs.

But despite the Zoo’s changes, it was unclear when, or even if, the USDA would come back for a follow up inspection. The delay has cost the Zoo, which attracts 70,000 visitors each year, $250,000 in lost business since March. Karl Mogensen has had to sell off numerous monkeys, camels and other exotic animals to cover costs.

But the USDA finally did come back on May 19 for a second inspection. Asha, the zoo’s sole elephant, was found to have a minor foot injury that is being tended to. Rabbits were identified as being confined in cages outside optimum temperature ranges. All rabbits were given away by the time inspectors came back the following day, according to Karl. Other than that, the second inspection verified that the Zoo had corrected a majority of the violations against it.

In its May 27 letter to Karl Mogensen, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries stated that it is, “satisfied that [the Natural Bridge Zoo] is substantially compliant with the Animal Welfare violations,” and its Wildlife Exhibitor’s Permit was reinstated the same day.

The Zoo’s opening day was May 30. The USDA will return for a routine unannounced follow up inspection in roughly six months.

Jessie Knadler is the editor and co-founder of Shen Valley Magazine, a quarterly print publication that highlights the entrepreneurial energy of the Shenandoah Valley. She has been reporting off and on for WMRA, and occasionally for National Public Radio, since 2015. Her articles and reporting have appeared everywhere from The Wall Street Journal to Real Simple to The Daily Beast. She is the author of two books, including Rurally Screwed (Berkley), inspired by her popular personal blog of the same name, which she wrote for six years. In her spare time, she teaches Pilates reformer, and is the owner of the equipment-based Pilates studio Speakeasy Pilates in Lexington. She is mom to two incredible daughters, June and Katie. IG: @shenvalleymag
Related Content