Asha the Lonely Elephant at the Natural Bridge Zoo in Virginia

This is Asha’s Story.

We have fallen in love with her and, once you know her story, you will want to help her too!

Asha is a 36-year-old African female elephant who was born in Zimbabwe somewhere between 1982-83. Asha lost her entire family in a horrific slaughter orchestrated by the government of Zimbabwe in 1984. She was left alone and scared, still needing her mother’s milk and guidance, before being rounded up and sent to the USA by the Shultz Company to later be exploited by the Natural Bridge Zoo at only two years old, a frightened baby destined for a life of human torture. There are few details that exist, but we do know that at least two elephants resided with her, Teaha from 1992- 1996, and Luna who arrived in 1999 (with few other details and the presumption that she didn’t live long). Asha has been forced to give backbreaking rides for nearly two decades to over 10,000 people every season. The heat is sweltering with no shade, and it is reported that water is withheld from her so she won’t need to urinate in front of paying customers. She is prone to potential foot and skin problems, and after repeated requests made by SNN to the Virginia Dept of Game & Inland Fisheries (DGIF), USDA, Virginia State Vet’s office and the local sheriff’s department, no evidence has been provided to indicate her barn is heated, so she may be subject to extreme temperature changes. She has no pool and is chained frequently in an exhibit and riding pen with major containment concerns. It is time she sees true grass, true freedom, and is released to an accredited sanctuary where she’d have the option to decide whether or not she wants to interact with other elephants and the space to learn to be the elephant she’s never had the chance to be in all of her 30+ years in the United States.

In 2017, Natural Bridge Zoo was cited for for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act based on its inadequate veterinary care, deteriorating buildings, and for leaving Asha alone and unattended in an inappropriately fenced enclosure. The most recent violations included “mistreatment and improper care of animals, including the mishandling of Asha by her keepers.” This deteriorating facility’s animal welfare violations go back as far as 1994, yet unbelievably, it remains open to the public.

Photo credit: Barbara Baker



Can YOU be a voice for Asha?




For more information on the Collaboration for Asha:

Contact: Dee Gaug

Contact: Sandra Clinger

Asha freshly oiled up for the 2018 riding season at the Natural Bridge Zoo, Virginia. 

Life and Death at the Natural Bridge Zoo

Natural Bridge Zoo in the mountains of Virginia has opened for another season, that for Asha, means more hardship, dominance, pain, and intimidation for their “star” exhibit – Asha, the lone African elephant. 34 years of captivity. Decades of loneliness and deprivation. She may have been exposed to nothing but bullhooks, elephant rides and solitary confinement, but as an elephant, Asha needs far more than this. Asha is not given a choice about anything she does. Freedom is not part of her daily life. Take a look at elephants in the wild, or even rescued elephants who now thrive in accredited elephant sanctuaries such as The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee or PAWS in California.

They get to CHOOSE! To forage, to roam, to splash and play in ponds with other elephants, to socialize. To be alone, to sleep, to eat, to play.

Freedom from pain, from exploitation, from abuse. Freedom from physical pain, mental stress, emotional anxiety produced from a tool called the bullhook, ankus or elephant goad that is used to discipline her and keep her in line.


“Our goal is to rescue Asha from this roadside zoo and get her to an accredited Sanctuary.” ~ According to the Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee (EST), “Sanctuary” refers to “providing a safe haven and natural habitat, dedicated solely to elephant wellbeing”.

One of Asha’s advocates recently visited her. She found Asha doused with mineral oil. The handler reported they keep 50-gallon containers of it for Asha’s use. One of the downsides to this is there was no shelter for Asha to get under if she chose to protect herself from the sun during the hours she is giving rides. There was no pond for her to frolic in or mud in which to bask to soothe and protect her skin. In addition to the barren exhibit, there was no food, no water, no enrichment toys. Asha’s eyes reflected the barren tiny spot of land. Empty. Asha’s entire world is comprised of either is standing in small electric fence enclosed portion of her small paddock with no shade, or giving rides, or chained to the barn in the summer, and being confined alone in a barn for a large portion of the long winters there. An electric fence surrounded her in the tiny area. She groped the ground for something to eat, but again, it was barren. Elephants typically eat 200- 600 pounds of food a day. They can also drink up to 50 gallons of water a day (according to The National Elephant Center.)

Photo credit: Barbara Baker

As we watched, listened and filmed Asha, she vocalized with a loud grumble in response to the handler briskly moving toward her in an assertive way. She immediately cowered and backed up. Asha was freshly oiled up for the 2018 riding season – “oiling” is an antiquated circus practice that has been found to lead to eventual health problems. Inside the back of Asha’s old metal barn animal cages, where other animals are also housed were visible propped next to the window. The floor was concrete, an unhealthy and inadequate surface for elephants to stand upon.

Photo courtesy: SNN

“Zero animals to interact with. Especially elephants. Little enrichment. No opportunity to freely roam and forage. Her life is empty. And that’s how her eyes look. Empty.” ~Kim Reid Hogan, Recent Park Visitor, Voices for Asha

The only thing worse than dying …. is living at this roadside zoo.

Photo credit: HSUS

The window at the back of Asha’s old metal habitat showed cages inside propped next to the window. Asha stands in filth, excrement, on a urine soaked concrete slab. The unheated barn is rat infested.


  • “Elephants, social isolation is an extreme and particularly devastating form of cruelty and deprivation.”
  • “Elephants who are kept in a small enclosures are in increased danger of developing chronic foot disease and arthritis, both of which lead to frequent instances of death for captive elephants. In fact, the most common reason for premature death of captive elephants is lack of space and standing on hard and/or otherwise inappropriate surfaces.”
  • “Natural Bridge Zoo uses “unprotected contact” in working with Asha. Such contact forces close interactions with the handler which is a very dangerous practice that is being phased out of zoos. It is not safe for Asha, the handler, and poses a public safety danger. Consequently, more modern, humane, and safer “protected contact” options are increasingly being used by zoos.”From the records that are publicly available and photographic and video evidence, it is clear that the living environment and management of Asha the elephant at Natural Bridge Zoo falls far below acceptable standards and is seriously adversely impacting Asha’s welfare, as well as placing the public at unnecessary and excessive risk. “
  • “There are “many” indicators of compromised welfare to Asha but perhaps the most overt is that this elephant is alone and isolated from conspecifics. For a female African elephant that has evolved to maintain exceptionally close and lifelong bonds with other elephants, social isolation is an extreme and exceptional form of cruelty and deprivation.”
  • “The staggering number and dangerous nature of U.S. Department of Wildlife (USDA) Animal Welfare Violations (AWA) incurred by Natural Bridge Zoo over the years, some of which appear to repeatedly reoccur and/or persist, combined with the solitary confinement of Asha relative to conspecifics for roughly a decade, compel me to recommend the immediate confiscation of this elephant and transfer to one of the two certified elephant sanctuaries in the U.S. “


Natural Bridge Zoo in the News:

Do You Love Elephants?

That may be because elephants are much like humans. They are sentient beings who thrive on contact with others of their own kind. They Play. They Love. They Mourn. Physically and emotionally, they need to be together with other elephants. World-wide populations are declining at an alarming rate due to poaching, the ivory trade, trophy hunting, and human encroachment into their ecosystems. Elephants are suffering in CAPTIVITY. Elephants across the globe are also being captured for human use and profit in circuses, zoos, tourism, temple festivals and logging. Although wild elephants can live well into their 60’s or 70’s, most captive elephants die in their 30’s or 40’s. And their lives are misery.

True Sanctuary for Elephants

There are over 200 zoo elephants and approximately 70 circus elephants in the U.S. today. We are working to improve their lives by ending all elephant captivity. But once they have been “broken”, elephants cannot return to the wild. The only answer is retirement to an accredited sanctuary. Accredited sanctuaries give elephants room to roam and forage and an opportunity to be part of an elephant family again. Excellent medical and personal care is provided as the elephants live their independent lives.

Most importantly, there are no more rides, performances or abuse. There are currently 2 true elephant sanctuaries in the USA, Performing Animals Welfare Society (PAWS) in California and The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee (EST). True sanctuary provides independence and autonomy for former captive zoo and circus elephants so that they can enjoy being elephants, not slaves to the human entertainment industry. In true sanctuary, human contact is minimal, and elephants are encouraged to be themselves. A new sanctuary called Elephant Refuge North America in Georgia is currently being built and will be open soon to accept more elephants. We wish true sanctuary for all enslaved circus and zoo elephants.

Progress and Victories

Elephants trained with a bullhook do not perform because they want to; they are coerced and dominated by fear of pain and years of abuse. The public is demanding change … and it is working. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has closed due to public awareness, declining attendance, and high costs of operating. Cities across the US have banned animal circuses or use of the bull hook. Zoos are coming under increasing scrutiny of their claims regarding conservation and education. Social media and technology are making it much harder to hide animal abuse. Working together, we can give all captive elephants the life they deserve. Join us!

Captivity: It’s Cruel for Them …

Captive elephants are sometimes kept alone and always in totally unnatural conditions when on public display or used for breeding. They develop debilitating arthritis and foot infections, which can lead to early death, and are stressed from solitude, poor diet, and lack of enrichment. They are prevented from breeding naturally and enjoying any independence. Traveling elephants spend hours in small trailers or boxcars, with little or no exercise. Circuses and zoos often claim they are protecting the future of wild elephants.


Captivity is not the answer!


Captive elephants are sometimes kept alone and always in totally unnatural conditions when on public display or used for breeding. They develop debilitating arthritis and foot infections, which can lead to early death, and are stressed from solitude, poor diet, and lack of enrichment. They are prevented from breeding naturally and enjoying any independence. Traveling elephants spend hours in small trailers or boxcars, with little or no exercise. Circuses and zoos often claim they are protecting the future of wild elephants.

Elephants are known to carry tuberculosis which can be transmitted to humans. TB testing is not required by the Federal Animal Welfare Act ( AWA). Current laws do not protect the public and are rarely enforced.

Photo credit left: Danie M. Bucknell,
Photo credit right: Barbara Baker

Foot problems are common in captive elephants, often due to standing in excrement.