27 Animals Found Dead at Virginia Zoo Amid Animal Cruelty Investigation, Bengal Tiger Euthanized

Authorities also recovered animal body parts such as a giraffe head, zebra legs and a mandrill head, according to a search warrant obtained by PEOPLE

<p>Linda Davidson/Getty</p> Natural Bridge Zoo in Virginia

Linda Davidson/Getty

Natural Bridge Zoo in Virginia

Dozens of animals have been found dead at a Virginia zoo as part of an animal cruelty investigation launched by state authorities.

The Virginia Attorney General’s Office and Virginia State Police executed two search warrants last week at the Natural Bridge Zoo in Rockbridge County, where authorities seized 95 living animals, and 27 dead animals, according to warrants obtained by WDBJ-TV, The Roanoke Times and WSET-TV.

One of the warrants dated Dec. 8 and obtained by PEOPLE shows the animals found dead at the zoo include cranes and servals, as well as an alligator, llama and macaw. A white bengal tiger had been euthanized during the investigation. Authorities also recovered animal body parts such as a giraffe head, zebra legs, and a mandrill head, according to the warrant.

“The tiger was euthanized with consent of the owners to humanely end its suffering upon recommendation by the specialist veterinarian following their examination,” Victoria LaCivita, spokeswoman for the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, said in a statement to PEOPLE.

According to a search warrant obtained by WDBJ-TV, several animals were found in “filthy” habitats without food or water. The outlet reports, citing an affidavit, that a confidential informant who was working at the zoo provided reliable information to state police that gave authorities probable cause to obtain the search warrants.

According to The Roanoke Times, an affidavit states that a CI claimed to police that a person working with elephants at the zoo had told him to “always jab them where bone is close to flesh. Make it count." The person allegedly further stated, “I’m not her friend, I’m her boss and you gain respect through fear,” according to the affidavit.

The CI also detailed the elephant’s “substandard” living conditions and shared information about the conditions of other animals, including a zebra that had allegedly been given medication that was expired and prescribed for another animal, The Roanoke Times reports, citing the affidavit.

Animal cruelty is listed as an offense in the search warrant obtained by PEOPLE.

Mario Williams, the attorney representing zoo owners, Karl and Pamela Mogensen, told PEOPLE on Monday that while a civil forfeiture hearing is scheduled for 10 days from now, his clients were not given substantial time to put up a defense. He added that 60 days would be an appropriate amount of time and plans to file a lawsuit.

"In my professional opinion, based on the violations of due process of the legal norms, this is not an attempt at saying 'Hey, we're putting animal welfare at the top of the charts to protect against.' This is an attempt to close private zoos because you have an ideological distaste for them," he said.

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This isn’t the first time Natural Bridge Zoo has been in hot water. In 2015, the zoo received a federal Animal Welfare Act citation for failing to provide the elephant known as Asha with adequate veterinary care for overgrown footpads, broken toenails, and dry, thickened skin, according to a press release shared by PETA.

In 2022, the zoo was cited again, this time, over “its failure to have direct control” of 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,” the release states.

According to its website, Natural Bridge Zoo “is and always has been privately owned” and has been operating since 1972. It is currently closed for the season.

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