Topeka Zoo director announces resignation

Wiley said he has accepted an offer to oversee the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, Texas.
Published: Sep. 26, 2023 at 3:11 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Brendan Wiley will end his 13-year run leading the Topeka Zoo.

Wiley announced plans Tuesday to leave for an opportunity at Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, TX. His last day will be Nov. 10, 2023.

“We are deeply grateful for Brendan’s leadership and his dedication to the Topeka Zoo and our entire community,” said Fred Patton, Topeka Zoo board president. “His tireless efforts have helped shape our zoo into the vibrant and respected organization it is today. We will long reflect upon Brendan’s tenure as a transformational period that enables our zoo to flourish for decades to come.”

The City of Topeka hired Wiley in May 2010. He was leading an animal rescue shelter in Merriam at the time. Prior to that, he was an animal curator at the Kansas City Zoo.

“You know we’re standing here at the Topeka Zoo and Conservation Center, there’s no place that makes me happier,” said Wiley. “It’s kind of with bittersweet emotions that today I announced my resignation.”

Wiley came to Topeka at a time when the zoo faced criticism for animal care issues. Among the first major improvements under his tenure was an expansion of the elephant area. It followed a 2012 City Council vote expressing support for the zoo to continue housing an elephant exhibit.

Several other major expansions have followed, including Camp Cowabunga, the Kay McFarland Japanese Gardens and accompanying event center, an Adventure Trail, and, most recently, the Giraffe and Friends exhibit area. He’s also brought in several temporary summer exhibits, including penguins, sea lions and sharks.

In addition, the zoo has maintained and expanded on fundraising events, such as Brew at the Zoo and Roar and Pour. Plus, they’ve added the popular Zoo Lights attraction over the holiday season.

“The Topeka Zoo in this community is a symbol of pride. It’s more than just recreation, it’s more than just entertainment. It’s about being part of a cause, being part of a mission, and it’s about bringing people and families together in a place that you can just imagine being in a different world,” Wiley said.

Wiley also led the zoo through a major operational shift. In February 2021, the City Council officially voted to turn over management of the Topeka Zoo to the non-profit, Friends of the Topeka Zoo. The change officially took effect in April 2021. The move was meant to improve efficiencies in operations and fundraising.

Wiley experienced both highs and lows during his tenure. The 2011 birth of Hope the giraffe brought international attention as veterinarians helped her successfully recover from a fetlock condition that often leads to fatal complications. But in 2019, the zoo dealt with a tiger attacking a keeper in its cage. The keeper survived and has recovered from the injuries.

“It’s been great watching and being part of the transition of things that occurred here. One of the things I’m most proud of is all of those accomplishments were always a group effort. There’s not a single thing that I did by myself here,” Wiley noted. “Sharing this type of news is hard. We’ve all been in it together so it was a little emotional, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Wiley’s last day as Topeka Zoo director will be November 10. Patton said the zoo will conduct a nationwide search for a new director.