Zoo Ponders Elephant Problem

Tembo and Sunda at the Topeka Zoo
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The elephant population at the Topeka Zoo may be changing soon.

New standards from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums say zoos must have at least three elephants or none at all, putting Tembo and Sunda's 36-year friendship in danger.

Tembo, the African elephant cow and her Asian counterpart may have to part ways.

"In the wild, elephants are decreasing in numbers due, typically due to causes related to the interaction with humans and agricultural damage," Topeka Zoo Director Brendan Wiley said. "In North-America, in zoos, we're going to go through a decrease in the elephant population simply [due] to age."

"Zoos are going to have to work more and more together to ensure that elephants continue to reproduce in zoos"

To manage those numbers, the AZA says the Topeka Zoo must house at least three elephants of the same species .

The zoo, which has collaborated on creating those requirements, now has to decide on three options, from having none, to three, to perhaps even growing a herd.

Any option would likely mean a change for Tembo and Sunda.

"In our situation where we have one Asian and one African, if we were to grow our herd, we would want to do that with one species...which would mean that we would have to find a home for one of the elephants here," he said.

Wiley says that even though the zoo currently meets the standards for as many as four elephants, keeping two species is not viable.

"These are elephants that have been in the zoo for many, many years and have seen literally generations of Topekans come here to see them. So many of us in this community are attached to those elephants."

Wiley said the zoo solicit community input on how to solve the elephant problem late this spring, once it has gathered data for all options.

The zoo has until 2016 to comply with the AZA requirement, but Wiley says he wants an elephant solution as soon as possible.