Zoo Director Speaks Out On Elephant Complaint

Tembo and Sunda at the Topeka Zoo
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- Topeka Zoo Director Brendan Wiley spoke out Tuesday night (9/25) out on the latest complaint against the zoo. It's from animal activists to the USDA, and it calls into question video you'll only see on 13 News and wibw.com.

In the video, you can see Asian elephant Sunda run toward the zoo's African elephant Tembo. In Defense of Animals members call it an attack from Sunda. The complaint states that the Topeka Zoo violates the requirement that animals in the same enclosure must be compatible. IDA member Catherine Doyle calls the behavior aggressive, adding that according to the Animal Welfare Act, animals must have sufficient space to make normal social adjustments.

Zookeepers say the move shows Sunda telling Tembo not to take her food. Wiley says "attack" is a strong word.

"Elephants live in a social structure that has a dominance to it, not unlike dogs or pets at home, if you have more than one," Wiley said. "When you see behavior like this, it's really important to evaluate not only what is going on right then, but what occurs before and after."

Wiley says the animals showed healthy behavior and began eating together after the incident. He says the complaint is part of a plan from In Defense of Animals.

"They are very open that they operate a campaign against the Topeka Zoo and its elephants. And so this is one of those tactics that typically you see in those types of campaigns. So is it surprising to us? No. It's really not. Does it give us an opportunity to look at the situation and explain it to the community? Yes it does," Wiley said.

The USDA did cite the zoo for violating the Animal Welfare Act with the elephants. Zoo officials won't reveal details of the citation, since they're appealing.

City leaders say they should have a plan on the future of the elephants in the next six weeks. Wiley says he expects a follow-up from USDA officials regarding this incident.

Tembo and Sunda at the Topeka Zoo