WASHINGTON -- Meghan Mogensen, the 26-year-old director of the Reston Zoo in Northern Virginia, came to police attention when a zoo employee reported finding the wet body of a dead wallaby in a trash bag.
The news that Mogensen has been charged with animal cruelty and possession of a controlled substance raises a lot of questions. One of them: How did a 26-year-old become director of a zoo?
The answer appears to be that Mogensen comes from a zoo family. Her father, Eric Mogensen, owns the Reston Zoo -- as well as the Gulf Breeze Zoo in Gulf Breeze, Fla., and the 180-acre drive-through Virginia Safari Park in Natural Bridge -- and has a question-raising past of his own.
In 1990, Eric Mogensen was the subject of a Humane Society complaint when a fishing cat, a sloth bear and two palm civets died "of apparent dehydration," according to the Los Angeles Times, while being transported by an animal shipping company he then owned.
WUSA-9 reports that more recently, in 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture wrote up the Reston Zoo for "not having a veterinary program in place to prevent disease and injury" and for "significant health issues including eye and skin irritations, lameness, diarrhea, and stillbirths." The Reston Zoo was written up again in 2012 for problems beyond the wallaby's death:
A USDA February 2012 inspection report identified euthanasia, frostbite, and an injured spider monkey left in pain as major problems.
The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service report cited the Reston Zoo with six violations, including cages that exposed a spider monkey to such cold temperatures the "hands and feet of the animal became frostbitten."
Inspectors also cited the zoo for improperly treating the spider monkey's "superficial cuts on his hands and feet," indicated the "veterinarian was not contacted" and "the pain the animal received from its injury was not relieved promptly."
Inspectors also cited the Reston Zoo in connection with the wallaby euthanasia.
Another Mogensen owns another zoo in Natural Bridge, the Natural Bridge Zoo. Karl Morgensen appears to be Eric's father and Meghan's grandfather. Calls to the Reston Zoo and the Virginia Safari Park went unanswered; the person who answered the phone at the Natural Bridge Zoo said she didn't know Karl and Eric's relationship and said Karl was unavailable to talk.
Steve Feldman, spokesman for a zoo accrediting group, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums -- which none of the Mogensen zoos are members of, Feldman said -- told The Huffington Post he believes that Karl is Eric's father.
Feldman also answered another of the questions sparked by this case: Is it usual practice for a zoo animal to be put in a trash bag in a Dumpster after it dies? Feldman said it's not, that in most cases, an animal would be examined to "find out what was wrong," and after that "bodies are usually buried or cremated."
The Natural Bridge Zoo was itself the subject of investigations. Here's The Rockbridge Report's 2006 findings:
The Natural Bridge Zoo is now under investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the national agency that governs zoos, according to Darby Holladay, USDA spokesman. Details cannot be disclosed, said Holladay, because of USDA policy on open investigations. However, zoo owner Karl Mogensen says this investigation is merely a matter of fencing that was not up to par with the USDA.
But this isn't the first time the zoo has been under scrutiny. In November 2004, the USDA fined Natural Bridge Zoo $2,475 after two Asiatic bears escaped through an unlocked gate. Both bears were shot and killed while they were on the loose in the community.
The Rockbridge Report also described an incident involving "a 23-year-old African elephant named Asha that has a history of causing injuries to employees," but noted that USDA officials said there was no formal investigation "concerning an elephant at the Natural Bridge Zoo."
In 2007, the USDA suspended Karl Mogensen's zookeeper license and fined him $10,000 for violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Karl Mogensen also temporarily lost his license and was fined $10,000 for AWA violations in 1993.
The Natural Bridge Zoo, the Virginia Safari Park and the Gulf Breeze Zoo are still open, as is the Reston Zoo, Patch reports:
It was business as usual at the Reston Zoo on Monday, the day after Fairfax County Police announced the arrest of zoo director Meghan Mogensen. Groups of parents and preschoolers strolled the grounds, hoping to feed animals by hand and visit the petting barn.
Updated, 11:04 a.m., to include WUSA-9's reporting on the Reston Zoo's recent USDA citations.