Updated, 1:03 am

A Rockbridge County jury found that 71 animals seized from the Natural Bridge Zoo in December will remain in the government’s custody, and the other 29 will be returned to the zoo.

The verdict, which culminated the weeklong trial shortly before midnight Monday, came after more than 10 hours of deliberation and ultimately favored the county.

To keep the animals in its custody, the county had to prove that each zoo animal had either been cruelly treated or had suffered from deprivation of care that led to a “direct and immediate threat to the animal’s life, health or safety.” For the animals that’ll return to the zoo, the county failed to do so.

Eleven lemurs, the albino burmese python, two sacred ibises, one kookaburra, four parrots, three cockatoos, two llamas, the sheep, the serval, the Poitou donkey and one of the macaws will return to the zoo’s custody. The jury also found the county did not prove the question for the male gibbon, which died several weeks ago.

All other animals will go to the county. This includes the giraffes, tamarins, the other gibbon, the dog, all other pythons, all other macaws, all the capuchins, all the tortoises, the three ground hornbills, the mini donkey, the turtles and the blue-tongued skink, which also died.

The four giraffes, which were legally seized by the government but have remained at the zoo because there was no way to transport them, will now be transported off the property once the county figures out how to do so.

As part of the order by Judge Christopher Russell, Natural Bridge Zoo will be subject to unannounced inspections for the next five years, although the court has yet to hammer out how that’ll work.

The jury began deliberating at 1:30 pm Monday, equipped with 100 different verdict forms — one for each animal. This followed closing arguments that focused on whether the county met the necessary threshold.

Special assistant attorney general Michelle Welch, who led the case against the zoo, said that through her 17 witnesses, she’s shown that every single animal fits into one of those two categories. She emphasized that the jury must consider good animal husbandry as part of adequate care — animal husbandry includes everything necessary for an animal to have a good life, one of her witnesses, veterinarian Dr. Chad Hundley, said during his testimony. The law’s definition of adequate care also includes maintaining the proper food, water, environment and other factors for animals, plus providing necessary veterinary care.

Save for the gibbon and the blue-tongued skink that died several weeks ago, the rest of the seized animals have gotten better since they were impounded and sent to various vets and zoos for care, Welch said. Her witnesses testified to this last week.

“They have been cared for in the last two months more than they ever were at Natural Bridge Zoo,” Welch said.

Erin Harrigan, the zoo’s attorney, attempted to cast doubt on the county’s version of events from the Dec. 6-7 raids. Zoo staff weren’t allowed to care for the animals until 1 pm that day, which she said accounts for the large amount of urine and feces found in the cages, as shown in photos throughout the trial. This wasn’t the zoo’s normal routine, she said, arguing that some of the evidence shown was a result of that disruption.

“Are you really looking at what the zoo looks like on a normal day?” Harrigan asked. “This was anything but a normal day.”

Harrigan showed more than a dozen photos to the jury in which she pointed out light, ventilation, drainage and other contested standards of care. Welch called Harrigan’s argument “a fantasy.”

Prior to closing arguments, the zoo unsuccessfully attempted to put Gretchen Mogensen, a Natural Bridge zookeeper and the daughter of its owners, on the stand as what Harrigan said was her final and “essential” witness. Welch objected, saying Mogensen was a “surprise witness.”

Welch said the zoo had notified her of its addition of Mogensen to the witness list just after 2 am Monday. Harrigan said it was a mistake and that he’d always intended to have Mogensen testify, but the judge sided with the county. The zoo later read a proffer of Mogensen’s intended testimony into the court record in case of appeal.

By fersz