Children of Natural Bridge Zoo founder named as new owners

Zoo to open Memorial Day weekend

NATURAL BRIDGE, Va. – Natural Bridge Zoo announced on Friday that it’ll reopen under new owners who are quite familiar with the zoo and its history.

During a press conference, it was revealed that former zoo manager Gretchen Mogensen and her brothers will be taking over the zoo.

Gretchen is the daughter of former co-owner, Karl Mogensen, and the step-daughter of former co-owner, Debbie Mogensen.

Gretchen Mogensen has been running the zoo for a while already as her dad, Karl Mogensen, has been sick. She said last summer he fell ill.

“We hope to reinvent the nature of the park with a focus on personal and educational encounter experiences,” Gretchen Mogensen said. “We hope if the park is successful we can help our parents through this devastating financial circumstance.”

The announcement comes after the zoo faced a heated court battle earlier this year to get its animals back after they were confiscated due to alleged animal abuse and neglect.

As we’ve previously reported, in December 2023, Virginia State Police, along with the Attorney General’s office, executed a search and seizure at the zoo. Back in March, on appeal, a jury decided that the state was justified in seizing 71 out of 100 animals they took.

Karl and Debbie Mogensen are due back in court in June for post-trial motions. There’s no word yet on whether the March decision will be appealed.

“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,” Gretchen Mogensen said. “We are committed to restarting our beloved park.”

Gretchen didn’t take any questions at the press conference. 10 News called later for more information about the new zoo structure and were told they “didn’t have anything written up right now.”

“The park will be operating from a different approach,” the zoo said in its social media announcement. “The facility has gone under new ownership and management. Dramatic changes have been made to introduce a more innovative and interactive experience. Keepers will be present for up-close encounters with select species. Please come and join us and show your much-appreciated support.”

10 News also reached out to the Attorney General’s office, which led the investigation in December. They said they have no comment on its re-opening.

However, on Friday, an investigator, a member of law enforcement and a zoo expert came to the zoo.

10 News asked them why they were there and they said they had no comment.

“That is for the state that they have they can come in and do unannounced inspections on the giraffes,” Gretchen Mogensen said. “This is only the second time they’ve shown up. This entire time.”

PETA spoke out about the re-opening:

“This is what we have to say is a pathetic attempt at a rebrand,” Debbie Metzler, PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Welfare said. “People should never forget that 71 of the animals at this roadside zoo were seized for mistreatment.”

The zoo’s social media post said, Asha, the elephant has been retired to a sanctuary. We’re still working to confirm the location.

The zoo plans to open for the 2024 Season this Memorial Day Weekend and will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday.

Stay with 10 News as this breaking news story develops

About the Authors

Jazmine Otey joined the 10 News team in February 2021.

Amy Cockerham joined the 10 News team in January 2023.

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