PETA to USDA: Send Expert to Assess Suffering Elephant at Natural Bridge Zoo

Solitary Elephant’s Poor Living Conditions Don’t Appear to Have Changed in Nearly a Decade

For Immediate Release:
January 21, 2015

David Perle 202-483-7382

Natural Bridge, Va.

After local news station WSET-TV aired video footage showing the substandard conditions under which a solitary elephant named Asha and several primates are being held at Natural Bridge Zoo, PETA sent a letter this morning to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging it to send its elephant expert, Dr. Denise Sofranko, to assess Asha’s conditions.

Asha has spent years without the company of another elephant, locked in a cold, damp barn at night and forced to walk in endless circles with riders on her back on days when the facility is open. WSET-TV’s footage shows Asha as she stood alone in a snow-covered paddock and rocked back and forth, stereotypical behavior that is a well-recognized sign of profound deprivation. Inside the barn, the reporter was allowed to approach this powerful, multi-ton animal without the protection of a physical barrier, an apparent violation of the Animal Welfare Act. Standing water is visible, and feces are piled several feet high against the wall. Along one wall of the barn, barren cages confining several primates can be seen.

“Asha’s substandard living conditions appear to be virtually unchanged from the last time Dr. Sofranko inspected the facility nearly 10 years ago,” says PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders. “Natural Bridge Zoo continues to thumb its nose at federal regulations, and it’s high time the government took decisive action.”

Since 2000, the USDA has cited Natural Bridge Zoo owner Karl Mogensen with at least 78 violations of federal animal-protection laws. In 2007, his license was suspended for a month and he was ordered to pay a $10,000 penalty. The USDA also reportedly fined Mogensen $2,475 in 2004, after two Asian black bears escaped through an unlocked gate and were apparently shot and killed. In 1994, the USDA fined Mogensen $10,000 and suspended his license for a month. The facility is currently under investigation by the USDA.

PETA’s motto reads in part that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment.” Its letter to the USDA is available upon request. For more information, please visit

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