Some Natural Bridge Zoo animals subjected to cruelty and inadequate care, court finds

District court issues decision regarding return of animals

LEXINGTON, Va. – Some of the animals seized from the Natural Bridge Zoo will have new homes after they were subjected to cruelty and inadequate care, according to a finding by the Lexington-Rockbridge District Court on Friday.

After two and a half days of testimony, the court concluded that many of the seized animals had been “subject to cruelty or inadequate care within the meaning of section 3.2-6569 of the Code of Virginia.”

The court has ordered the disposal of 60 animals seized, including four giraffes. As an exception, the court was unable to fairly conclude that there was no reasonable doubt with respect to 39 of the animals. Those animals, which include lemurs, macaws, and pythons, will be returned to the Natural Bridge Zoo owners.

Virginia State Police, along with the Attorney General’s office, executed the search and seizure at the zoo on December 6-7.

The Attorney General’s office declined to comment on the decision as they said this is still an ongoing investigation.

Mario Williams, the zoo’s attorney was surprised by the decision. “I personally do not feel the state met its burden. The test result for the Capuchins for example alone was sufficient to rule in our favor. Allowing the state to take the Giraffes simply isn’t supported by the evidence. We will appeal and have our day in front of a jury. We feel confident in this context, we will get all the animals returned,” he said.

You can view the summary of the proceedings below and a full list of animals to be returned to the zoo.

Natural Bridge Zoo by WSLS on Scribd


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Amy Cockerham joined the 10 News team in January 2023.

Lauren Helkowski joined WSLS 10’s digital team in August 2022, but has held a passion for storytelling long before.