Topeka Zoo Says Elephant Updates Progressing

By: WIBW (Posted by Melissa Brunner)
By: WIBW (Posted by Melissa Brunner)
Topeka Zoo officials say they are making progress in implementing new strategies for their elephant program.

Courtesy: City of Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Topeka Zoo officials say they are making progress in upgrading their elephant program.

The elephants have been a point of controversy for several years, with animal advocacy groups claiming the zoo isn't providing a proper environment or proper care. They lobbied for the city to move the two animals to a sanctuary. The City Council ultimately voted in October 2012 to support the zoo staff's decisions in keeping the elephants.

Zoo officials developed a list of strategies for improving the program, including installing surveillance cameras to better monitor the animals' patterns and interactions and adding various enrichment options for the animals.

Friday, as part of the City Manager's weekly report, the city released an updated on the process of implementing those strategies. It follows in its entirety.

City of Topeka Update on the Topeka Zoo's Elephant Program

New Program Strategies
1. Installation of a 24 hour surveillance system both inside and outside of the facility. This will help us understand how the elephants use their time, such as sleep patterns, and how they interact with each other. We will have better indicators to monitor their health.

•May 2013 Update: The surveillance system was purchased and installed. Currently, two cameras are located inside the barn and three outside. Cameras are equipped with motion detection and night vision.
2. Separation of husbandry space from habitat space

•May 2013 Update: Zones have been designated in the inside space for husbandry (the daily training and animal care space) and habitat space (areas designated for play, enrichment or exploration like sand piles, hanging browse and food or manipulative feeders. An ear door for blood collection and foot links were installed in the husbandry space. Special engineered anchors were installed in the habitat space to suspend feeding devices, manipulative objects and browse.
3. Develop resting, sleeping and climbing places in the outside habitat through the addition of substrates such as sand mounds, rocks or logs.

•May 2013 Update: 102 tons of sand and 27 yards of soil have been added to the habitat so far. Logs have been provided by local tree services.
4. Develop a hay distribution system that offers hay in smaller quantities at various levels in both the inside and outside habitat. Explore the use of timer systems that can deliver hay throughout a 24 hour period to provide a longer range of feeding opportunities for the elephant.

•May 2013 Update: To date, three manipulative hay feeders and eight engineered anchorages (five outside and three inside) have been attached to the building to safely suspend food and feeding devices. Design of a swinging boom has been completed and is the next item to be fabricated and installed.
5. Browse program – offer browse or tree limbs daily – vary the amounts and the distribution multiple times a day to stimulate natural behaviors.

•May 2013 Update: The zoo generates its own edible browse on an as available basis. Two local tree service companies have agreed to help provide elephant safe browse. A portion of the concrete area behind the elephant barn has been designated for browse storage when surplus storage is available.
6. Trunk Tubes – install and bury culverts at base of fence line that have trunk size holes drilled into them for the purpose of offering enrichment that can be manipulated by the trunk.

•May 2013 Update: At present – One trunk tube has been installed. Two additional trunk tubes are on grounds and ready to be incorporated into the habitat after the location of the swinging boom feeders have been finalized.
7. Daily habitat preparation – rearrange the habitat each morning (as the habitat is cleaned) changing items and activity areas. In the process, engage Zoo guests to be involved as habitat is refreshed in the afternoon.

•May 2013 Update: Currently indoor and outdoor habitats are rearranged daily. Over the winter and spring, the elephant team added a great deal of material into the substrate of the outdoor habitat. A soil conditioner has been identified as the next piece of equipment to acquire for yard maintenance, and will be purchased soon.
8. Install a training wall outside in prominent view of Zoo guests. The elephant interactions with the staff would be done at this viewing (climate dependent). Interactions would include but are not limited to training, daily husbandry and health care with the elephants over the course of the year while the Zoo is open and available to guests. Training to occur at this way will include baths, foot trims, blood collection, radiographs, mouth exams and body inspections.

•May 2013 Update: The training wall will be the last item started. Engineering of the wall will begin in the summer of 2013. There is zero room for error on this item as it will be mounted into the primary barrier. Zoo staff are evaluating the need to bring a consultant back before implementation.
9. Implement a Geriatric Elephant Management Plan that anticipates changing needs of our elephants as they continue to age. In the plan, include the following: observation tactics, data tracking, husbandry needs, outward communication strategy and equipment needs.

•May 2013 Update: Elephant Heath Management Plan was implemented in January
10. Reallocate existing equipment and resources to support program goals:

•Skid Loader – use will be needed daily, base the equipment out of the elephant facility.\
May 2013 Update: Skid Loader is now based at the zoo’s elephant barn for
daily use.

•Develop a browse acquisition network and storage area.
May 2013 Update: The zoo generates its own edible browse on an as available basis. Two local tree service companies have agreed to help provide elephant safe browse. A portion of the concrete area behind the elephant barn has been designated for browse storage when surplus storage is available.

•Assign consistent use of staff time to the program on a daily basis with the focus of 16 hours a day dedicated to the elephants. ($20,000 annually recurring cost)
May 2013 Update: Currently, most days this objective is met with the exception occurring when someone calls in sick or during cross-training opportunities. Recently, the Elephant Management Committee assigned the next keeper that will be trained into the elephant program. As that keeper starts training with elephants, an animal care assistant will be utilized in that keeper’s previous role.

631 SW Commerce Pl. Topeka, Kansas 66615 phone: 785-272-6397 fax: 785-272-1363 email:
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