Feds Cite Natural Bridge Zoo Over Dangerous Elephant Rides, PETA Learns

For Immediate Release:
February 11, 2022

David Perle 202-483-7382

Natural Bridge, Va.

Local roadside zoo Natural Bridge Zoo is in hot water with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) once again—this time, the facility has received a federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) citation over its failure to have direct control of an elephant named Asha when she was being forced to give rides to visitors. The inspector noted that photographs revealed Asha’s “handler” standing far away from her—at times, not even visible in the frame.

This is at least the second time that Natural Bridge Zoo has been cited for this issue, and the roadside zoo was also cited in 2015 for failing to provide Asha with adequate veterinary care for overgrown footpads, broken toenails, and dry, thickened skin. PETA has alerted the USDA numerous times about the mistreatment of this elephant, as she’s suffered at Natural Bridge Zoo for decades after being captured in her natural habitat as a baby. When she’s not being forced to carry visitors on her back in the sweltering summer heat, she’s historically been chained in a barn with damp concrete flooring in the frigid winters—and she’s held alone, unable to socialize or communicate with another of her kind.

“This shameless operation exploits a lonely, suffering elephant at the expense of visitors’ safety,” says PETA Foundation Associate Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Debbie Metzler. “PETA is urging everyone to avoid Natural Bridge Zoo and every other reckless roadside zoo as though lives depend on it, because they do.”

In 2019, the USDA issued Natural Bridge Zoo a $41,500 penalty for egregious violations of the AWA, and the agency has cited the roadside zoo a total of nearly 150 times, including for bludgeoning animals to death as a method of “euthanasia” and for failing to provide animals with veterinary care, food, and water. Both the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (now the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources) and the USDA have temporarily suspended Natural Bridge Zoo’s exhibitor’s license on at least three occasions.

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—notes that the vast majority of facilities with elephants in their custody have ended direct contact activities. Natural Bridge Zoo is one of only a handful of exhibitors still putting the public at risk by selling elephant rides.

PETA opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. For more information on PETA’s investigative newsgathering and reporting, please visit PETA.org or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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