Home After tumultuous offseason, Natural Bridge Zoo to reopen under new ownership

After tumultuous offseason, Natural Bridge Zoo to reopen under new ownership

elephant eye close up zoo
(Stock photo, elephant eye, © heyjojo19 – stock.adobe.com)

After months locked in a court battle with the state Attorney General and Rockbridge County, the Natural Bridge Zoo is ready to open its doors again under new ownership.

The zoo announced on its social media that it will open on May 25.

“The park will be operating from a different approach,” the post read. “The facility has gone under new ownership and management.”

Gretchen Mogensen and her brothers will reportedly take over the zoo. She served as the spokesperson for the family during the animal seizures that took place in December. She is the daughter of former co-owner Karl Mogensen and stepdaughter of co-owner Debbie Mogensen.

In total, 89 animals were seized and impounded on Dec. 6, according to a notice filed with Rockbridge County Circuit Court. After a six-day jury trial, Rockbridge County was granted custody of 71 animals from Natural Bridge Zoo. The remaining animals were returned to the zoo.

“This entire ordeal has been very hard to accept as we as a family have always loved the animals with which we shared our lives,” said Gretchen Mogensen, at a news conference and reported by WSLS.

“We are committed to restarting our beloved park.”

Asha, an elephant at the zoo, has been retired to a sanctuary according to the social media post. Asha was not on the seizure list in December though there had been complaints that the animal was chained regularly, given cold baths and living in substandard conditions. The animal was reportedly not on the zoo grounds at the time of the seizures.

“Dramatic changes have been made to introduce a more innovative and interactive experience,” the social media post read. “Keepers will be present for up-close encounters with select species.”

The zoo faced an uncertain future after the seizures and court battle.

“To all those whom have reached out in support, it means the absolute world to us. The animals and our crew are immensely overwhelmed right now,” said Gretchen Mogensen after the seizures. “Moving forward will be an immense mental and even more financial challenge. I do not know if we will survive as a facility or if we will fall at the cruel hands that have sought to bring us down.”

A GoFundMe set up for the family raised more than $10,000 of a $100,000 goal.

The park closed to the public on Nov. 27. The seizures took place on Dec. 6. The zoo was scheduled to reopen in March.

The Natural Bridge Zoo will be open starting May 25 Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each week.

Jury sides with Rockbridge County on fate of 71 animals at Natural Bridge Zoo
Published date: March 5, 2024 | 12:39 pm

Office of Attorney General responds to Natural Bridge Zoo investigation, seizures
Published date: December 13, 2023 | 1:56 pm

Virginia zoo may not survive after 89 living, 28 deceased animals seized in investigation
Published date: December 11, 2023 | 4:54 pm

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.