Virginia police seize dead animals and body parts from ‘filthy’ zoo
Almost 100 animals, along with 28 dead animals and animal body parts, have been seized from the Natural Bridge Zoo in Virginia after they were allegedly found living in “filthy” habitats.
The Virginia State Police executed a search warrant, obtained by WDBJ7, at the zoo on Wednesday amid accusations of animal cruelty.
The warrant said that the animals were held in poor conditions and dirty environments, and were lacking food and water.
In total, 95 animals were seized from the zoo, including 16 capuchins, 14 tortoises, five lemurs, and two Burmese pythons.
Other animals taken under the warrant include tamarins, gibbons, sacred ibis, ground hornbills, kookaburras, macaws, patrons, cockatoos, serval, ball pythons, red-eared slider, a turtle, a skink, donkeys, sheep, llamas and a dog.
A large number of dead animals and animal body parts were also found at the zoo, including legs, a head, the skin, tails and frozen bags of faeces, all from giraffes. The legs of a zebra and the head of a mandrill were also located.
Officials also seized the body of a euthanised white Bengal tiger which the Attorney General’s Office said was put down with the owner’s consent to “humanely end its suffering”, according to WSET.
Gretchen Mogensen, a representative for Natural Bridge Zoo, told WSLS that the vet was already “dealing” with the tiger, named Zeus, and his health before he was euthanised.
“I stroked his head, and I kissed his nose and held his paws while he took the very last breath that he’ll ever have,” Ms Mogensen said in tears.
“While the cat may have had issues and was sick, our vet was dealing with it, and we had a very strong record of what was going on.”
Alligators, a dog, a lemur and a llama were also among the 28 dead animals allegedly seized, although it is unclear how they died.
The search warrant specified that documents, records and electronic devices linked to the animals’ well-being and the zoo as a business were also taken by police.
According to the AG’s office, the owners of Natural Bridge Zoo had “abandoned, cruelly treated or neglected” the animals “in such a condition as to constitute a direct and immediate threat to its life, safety or health”.
The search warrant was issued after a confidential informant who worked at the zoo told police they had witnessed cruel behaviour at the facility, according to WDBJ7.
The informant claimed that keepers would use a bullhook (a pole with a metal hook and tip) to control the animals and would “always” jab them where “bone is close to flesh... Make it count,” the warrant states.
The informant also alleged that an elephant named Asha was left shackled and living in her own waste, while she also had to carry hundreds of guests on elephant rides in short spans of time, the outlet said.
The owner’s attorney, Mario Williams, said they were blindsided by the search and wanted to know the reasoning behind police intervention in the privately owned zoo.
“We’re going to challenge the criminal charges, one by one, show us where the neglect was; you got to show us all this stuff. You know, you just can’t run around saying stuff. And without any proof really,” Mr Willams told WDBJ7 on Wednesday.
He added that the owners plan to go through the appeals court to reclaim their seized animals – and will likely be litigating this case for years.
Ms Mogensen claimed to WSLS that the authorities were trying to “paint us in the worst light possible” when they turned up at the park on Wednesday morning before any of the keepers could start their morning routines for the animals.
She added that she is unhappy with how the officers dealt with taking the animals and is concerned with how the seized animals will be cared for.
Ms Mogensen said that some animals were left behind in the zoo, raising questions as to why some were taken and some weren’t.
Ms Mogensen did not mention the dead animals or the animal body parts during the interview with local news.
It is unclear where the seized animals have been taken.
The owners are expected to appear before a hearing on 20 December amid the investigation.