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USDA inspection finds several repeat violations at Natural Bridge Zoo

Asha at Natural Bridge Zoo (Barbara Baker)

ROCKBRIDGE Co., Va. (WSET) - Another animal rights group is calling for the closure of the Natural Bridge Zoo in Rockbridge County after the most recent inspection from the USDA.

The USDA's report from June 2017 found several violations, three of which are labeled "repeat."

The first repeat violation the USDA notes is that of adequate veterinary care.

The report notes that "all daily observations of problems in animal health need to be communicated to the vet so that an appropriate diagnosis can be made and a treatment plan instituted to ensure the health of the animals, and the safety of the public that has contact with the animals."

Another repeat violation concerns Asha the elephant, and her enclosure, found to be "inadequate" to prevent her escape, according to In Defense of Animals.

The inspector found that Asha was left alone while her handler was in the barn, and noted the barn does not have windows so Asha can be watched properly.

"The facility must ensure that the handler is with the elephant at all times when the facility or choose to construct a primary enclosure that will adequately contain the elephant," the report reads.

"She is forced to give rides in that compound in the sweltering summer heat under the threat of a sharp bull hook. Asha has long been denied the companionship of other elephants and is confined to spend endless days alone in a barn in the winter months," the press release from In Defense of Animals says.

“The appalling and archaic conditions at Natural Bridge Zoo should fill every American with shame that this roadside atrocity is allowed to keep Asha the African elephant alone from all others of her kind for years in deplorable conditions”, says In Defense of Animals Elephant Scientist, Dr. Toni Frohoff. “Forcing this majestic elephant to give rides is not only cruel for the elephant, it poses a serious and unnecessary health and safety risk to the public.”

This is not the first time the zoo has been under fire from animal rights groups.

The USDA report notes that the public is encouraged to feed the animals, even noting that some pick grass to give to the animals, and that there is no staff present to monitor the safety of both the public and the animals.

Other violations noted in the report include improper housing for the gibbons and the roof of the lemur enclosure needing repair.

Officials noted the presents of rodents, including rats, and holes around enclosures.

"The presence of these mammalian pests is a potential disease hazard to the animals as these rodents can be carriers of disease and parasites," the report says.

The Natural Bridge Zoo ranks second in In Defense of Animals' list for 10 worst zoos of 2016; the zoo took the top spot in 2014.

“As bans of elephant performances and rides are enacted throughout the U.S. and internationally, archaic facilities like Natural Bridge Zoo, owned and operated by repeat offenders of the Animal Welfare Act, need to be shut down for good,” said Dr. Frohoff. “The city of Richmond, Virginia passed a bull hook ban that will go into effect in 2018, confirming that people are no longer tolerating abusive exploitation of elephants. In Defense of Animals urges everyone to stay away from Natural Bridge Zoo and not patronize any place that keeps elephants in captivity but instead support their being placed in accredited sanctuaries.”

The USDA is the arm of the federal government that enforces the Animal Welfare Act, ultimately it is up to them to close Natural Bridge Zoo, according to state officials.

There have been more than 60 violations at the Natural Bridge Zoo since January 2015.

In July, PETA released a report with videos and pictures concerning animal wellbeing at the facility.

The zoo wrote on their Facebook page the day the report was released "don't believe everything you read on the Internet. Extremist groups like PETA and HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) love to tell lies to further their personal agenda. They are against all animals living in captivity, including your family dogs and cats."

Karl Mogensen, the owner of the zoo, has repeatedly denied the allegations against the zoo, saying "this is the usual bologna" when asked about previous reports.

ABC 13 has reached out to the zoo and Mogensen for comment on this new inspection from the USDA, and this story will be updated when we hear back.

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