Topeka Zoo isn't worried about mixing elephant species

Published: Aug. 25, 2016 at 1:34 PM CDT
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Topeka Zoo officials say it isn’t that uncommon to see two different elephant species living together.

The zoo welcomed Shannon and Cora to their new home Wednesday. Shannon an African elephant and Cora an Asian elephant joined Asian elephant Sunda an African elephant Tembo.

Zoo Director Brendan Wiley says the Topeka Zoo is just one of three zoos’ across the nation that house mixed species of elephants. He says it was common for zoos to house multiple species in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but in the late 80’s and into the 90’s zoos moved away from that model and began to focus on one species.

“What we know now is that some of those health concerns, we’re learning,” Wiley said. “They’re not as valid when we see pairs of elephants like Tembo and Sunda and Cora and Shannon that have been together for so long, those health concerns aren’t there.”

In the future the Topeka Zoo will focus on only housing African elephants. Wiley says that decision was made since the elephant exhibit is in the Africa area of the zoo.

The two elephants came to Topeka from a private residence in Florida.

The newest residents are still in quarantine, but zoo visitors are still able to see the elephants, they’re just not interacting directly with Tembo and Sunda.

The habitat the elephants currently live in is getting an upgrade. The zoo revealed drawings for their Topeka Zoo Master Plan Wednesday, showing the elephant exhibit will greatly increase in size.

However, the current exhibit has to last the four elephants about five years.

The group PETA has raised concerns over the Topeka Zoo's elephant exhibit. It believes the elephants are in distress and are deprived of social opportunities. Another group, Animal Outreach of Kansas, even led a push to get the elephants sent to a reserve in Tennessee, which led to a 2012 City Council vote to support the zoo in keeping the elephants, with a master plan to expand the exhibit.

The exhibit expansion should be complete in 2021.