Public Weighs In On Future Of Zoo Elephants

Tembo and Sunda at the Topeka Zoo
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The future of elephants at the Topeka Zoo hangs in the balance. More than a dozen people weighed in on the issue at a public meeting Tuesday evening at the Big Gage Shelterhouse near the zoo.

"They're socialized, they're good friends. i would hate to see them leave," one woman said.

"I don't think that keeping elephants here is best in terms of conservation," a man said.

17 people, on both sides of the issue, spoke emotionally - though twice as many said they wanted zoo officials to keep Sunda and Tembo at the Topeka Zoo. The meeting was attended by more than 40 people, as well as zoo staff.

Director Brendan Wiley says the issue is much larger than just two elephants.

"We're talking about two elephants, but elephants around the world are in crisis and people here in Topeka can make a difference in elephant conservation."

Wiley urged attendees to ponder this question on conservation - if not us then who?

The zoo is evaluating four options: o leave things the way they are, to add one elephant, to expand into a conservation and breeding facility with up to 8 elephants, or to find a new home for Sunda and Tembo.

Some in attendance offered other suggestions.

"The cause of conservation could be served with webcams for elephants in other places." Rick Riggs said.

Though others, including Wiley, said nothing could spark passion for conservation like a real life relationship with a pachydrerm.

Wiley showed attendees a close up image of an elephant's eye. "This part of the elephant is, I kid you not, one of the most beautiful things in the world. It would be a disaster if it disappeared from our world," he said.

The feedback gathered at this hearing will go to Topeka's city manager, Jim Colson, who hopes to make a decision by the end of the month. Ultimately the city council will decide the elephants' fate.

The next public meeting on the elephants' future is Saturday, October 13, at 2 p.m. in the Gary Clarke Living Classroom at the zoo. There will be no admission charge for public meeting attendees between the hours of 1:30 - 4 p.m.