Topeka Zoo is 8th-worst in nation for elephants, animal rights group says

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- The Topeka Zoo once again is facing criticism over the way its elephants are treated.

A new list from the animal rights organization In Defense of Animals (IDA) ranks the zoo as the eighth worst for the giant paciderms in its latest rankings of the ten worst zoos for elephants.

“We urge the Topeka Zoo to end its elephant program now. Send Cora and Tembo to live out the rest of their lives in far better and more natural conditions in an accredited sanctuary. It’s just the right thing to do,” IDA’s Fleur Dawes said.

Zoo Director Brendan Wiley responded to the report, saying they take the rankings “with a grain of salt.” He says they are confident in the care they provide for their elephants.

“When you see a report like this, it’s not hard to do your own research. Find your own information to really, just fact check it yourself,” Wiley urged.

He did note that, while the zoo’s mission is “very different” from IDA, both organizations have similar interests.

“We just go about our business in two very different ways,” he said.

The eighth-place ranking is actually and improvement for the Topeka Zoo. Last year, it topped the list following the death of Shannon the elephant. She was 35-years-old when she died on December 11, 2017, after being found on the ground and unable to get up. At the time, zoo staff said she is believed to be down for 10 hours on both occasions.

“Her body simply gave out,” Wiley told 13 NEWS after her death. “She died surrounded by people who truly loved her.”

IDA noted ten months after Shannon’s death, in September 2018, another elephant, Sunda, was euthanized for what the organization described as “ill health from captivity-related ailments.”

Sunda has been dealing with a variety of health problems including kidney issues, a mass in her reproductive system, and a sore behind her ear that was reluctant to heal, the zoo said. She was euthanized after not being able to get up on her own.

The organization argues the two remaining elephants, Cora and Tembo, don’t have enough space to move around and are stuck in a cold climate which isn’t good for their physical or psychological health.

“Elephants are not thriving in constricted zoo exhibits, no matter how fresh the paint or the addition of an acre or two,” said In Defense of Animals President, Marilyn Kroplick M.D.

According to Wiley, they try to keep the elephants busy for about 20 hours a day and, during this time of the year, they come up with extra ways to enrich their days.

“Different types of toys, Christmas trees. They love playing, tearing apart, rubbing, getting some of that pine sap on them. We even do different things with the yard,” he describes.

IDA calls the conditions at the zoo out of step with elephant care standards of the day, pointing to the fact the zoo houses Asian and African elephants, which creates social problems for the animals.They add the zoo had been cited and fined on multiple occasions for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act. and had “lost accreditation at least once due to inadequate conditions, some of which have led to miserable deaths for animals at the Topeka Zoo.”

With the Topeka Zoo no longer topping the list, the Bronx Zoo is now listed as the worst zoo.

  1. Bronx Zoo, Bronx, New York
  2. Natural Bridge Zoo, Rockbridge County, Virginia
  3. Dallas Zoo, Dallas, Texas
  4. Louisville Zoo, Louisville, Kentucky
  5. Roger Williams Park Zoo, Providence, Rhode Island
  6. Birmingham Zoo, Birmingham, Alabama
  7. Caldwell Foundation Zoo, Tyler, Texas
  8. Topeka Zoo, Topeka, Kansas
  9. Seneca Park Zoo, Rochester, New York
  10. Milwaukee County Zoo, Milwaukee, Wisconsin