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DIRTY DEALINGS: THE TRUTH BEHIND THE VOTE ON THE TOPEKA ZOO’S ELEPHANTS

February 26th, 2010 by Nicole Meyer

On Tuesday, the Topeka City Council voted to continue keeping ailing elephants Sunda and Tembo in their inadequate exhibit at the Topeka Zoo. A special work session to discuss retiring the elephants to a sanctuary had been scheduled to follow the meeting, but political forces opposed to making a decision before a new zoo director is hired were able to present a motion calling for an immediate vote.

Contributing to their efforts was Sedgwick County Zoo (Kansas) director Mark Reed, who showed the AZA’s true colors when it comes to the welfare of animals and protecting the trade association’s sovereignty over zoos and their elephants. (Reed is also a past-chair of the National Elephant Center, a breeding and temporary holding facility to be built in Florida. Think he’s mad that the St. Lucie County Commission said they can’t use bullhooks there? – Reed’s own zoo does.) During a 20-minute red-faced rant, he bullied, threatened and lied to the city council, saying that moving Tembo and Sunda to a sanctuary would “destroy the zoo.” What he meant was that AZA would take down the zoo and make an example of it for any other zoo that wants to do the right thing for its elephants. Despite the fact that no zoo that has sent an elephant to a sanctuary has ever lost its accreditation, he threatened the council with that action, ominously adding that, without AZA accreditation, no more animals would ever come to the zoo. But his most unconscionable threat was directed at the Topeka Zoo’s gorilla, Tiffany, who was left alone after her cage-mate, M’Bili died last year from an aortic aneurysm, at least according to disgraced former Topeka Zoo director Mike Coker. Reed warned the council that the zoo would never be able to bring in another gorilla as a companion for Tiffany and that she would “die alone.”

We already know that the AZA would rather see an animal suffer in substandard conditions than appear to capitulate to those who truly have the animals’ best interests at heart. But to make such a heinous and cruel threat about Tiffany, with obvious relish, is a new low even for AZA. Apparently, AZA and Reed have no qualms about condemning a highly intelligent and social animal to solitary confinement for the rest of her life, in order to punish a zoo that would want to do right by their own elephants.

But there’s more skullduggery. City Manager Norton Bonaparte had invited captive wildlife consultant and veterinarian Dr. Mel Richardson, who has worked with elephants for more than 30 years, to examine and assess Tembo and Sunda. When Dr. Richardson visited the zoo, he was met by a group he assumed were all employed at the Topeka Zoo. Only at the council meeting was it revealed, by Reed, that two members of the group came from the Sedgwick County Zoo – a veterinarian and curator – though they never identified themselves as such to Dr. Richardson. This type of behavior is underhanded, unethical and unprofessional, especially on the part of veterinarian Bill Bryant.

Predictably, Reed reported that his vet was of the opinion that Tembo and Sunda are fine. This is what every zoo says about its ailing elephants, up until the time they can no longer stand on their painfully diseased feet and joints and then die. His report directly contradicted information in the Topeka Zoo medical records and Dr. Richardson’s assessment. In fact, both Tembo and Sunda suffer foot disorders, especially Sunda, who has chronic foot disease involving all four feet, information delivered by Dr. Richardson in his presentation to city council.

Also invited to speak was Carol Buckley, co-founder of The Elephant Sanctuary, who addressed concerns about whether Tembo and Sunda are truly bonded and answered questions relating to the welfare and behavior of animals that have been sent to the sanctuary. Though Tembo, an African elephant, and Sunda, an Asian, have lived together for many years, the Topeka Zoo records reveal a history of aggression between the two elephants that has sometimes resulted in injuries. According to Buckley, bonded elephants at the sanctuary never harm one another.

Representing IDA was elephant campaign director Catherine Doyle who encouraged the city council to listen to facts and not emotional appeals. She urged the council to help the zoo make a fresh start with a focus on animal welfare. While making it clear that IDA was there to help provide information so the city could make an informed decision, she encouraged sending the elephants to a sanctuary.

IDA does not consider the campaign for Tembo and Sunda to be over – far from it. We will continue to fight for these elephants, and all elephants living in unnatural and inadequate conditions, and will keep you informed of anything you can do to help them.

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  53. May 19, 2012 at 5:34 pm, janet cope said:

    I have spoken till I’m blue in the face. these people could care less about the elephants suffering. Maybe one or two care. I hATE ELEPHANT ABUSE
    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  54. December 08, 2010 at 11:47 am, Tory said:

    The agricultural livestock committee needs to investigate this collusion between APHIS and the AZA as to why this collusion exists and the reason its Animal Welfare Act is not being enforced.

  55. December 06, 2010 at 11:07 am, Tory said:

    To understand why elephants are not going to sanctuaries this article is extremely important in explaining the heavy hand of the AZA. The (alleged) collusion between APHIS and the AZA is also what keeps abused circus animals from going to sanctuaries so that they can go straight to AZA zoos. Congress needs to investigate this.

  56. June 09, 2010 at 2:04 am, Kim Lowery said:

    I am outraged saddened and sick to the stomach when I read about how many elephants are being subjected to a never ending cycle of cruelty and disregard for their well being. Something HUGE has got to be done world wide wide to put an end to these beautiful highly intelligent animals plight. We hear about it, read about it and it seems their pain and suffering is increasing daily world wide. They butchered over 1500 black rhino in Zululand with shotguns, snares and other barbaric ways for their horns for heaven’s sake and FIVE have been sent to Zambia. GOD alone what fate awaits the remaining few rhinos that are also virtually extinct. I dread to think of what is in store for those few rhinos that were supposedly ‘rescued’? It’s insane and we as human beings need to ensure all exploitation and cruely is STOPPED before it becomes simply another case where it ends up becoming ‘yesterday’s news’ or worse still people lose hope because their fight ends up being yet another futile mission because of the power greed and callousness of the people(sic) involved in the barbaric ivory trade or culling of these gentle giants, poaching, circuses etc. etc. The list is endless and the vicious circle of abuse of animals is growing every day. Sick to death of it and ashamed to be part of the ‘human’ race!!! We need MORE people to get involved and FIGHT this shocking abuse/cruelty Thank you, Kim

  57. March 08, 2010 at 4:46 pm, Carla said:

    Thank you, Catherine, for your clarification. That makes sense.

  58. March 08, 2010 at 10:20 am, Catherine Doyle said:

    The sanctuary would take both elephants, however, as one is Asian and the other African, they would be separated. Both The Elephant Sanctuary and PAWS keeps African and Asian elephants separated so they can live with others of their own species. TES co-founder Carol Buckley told the Topeka City Council that she would never separate two bonded elephants (a practice common in zoos). However, according to the medical records for Tembo and Sunda, there is a history of aggression between the two elephants, and Tembo has been injured on more than one occasion. According to TES co-founder Carol Buckley, elephants who are truly bonded do not injure one another.

  59. March 06, 2010 at 9:52 am, Carla said:

    Message to Lisa Norman: Did Hiller say why the sanctuary wouldn’t take both? Is one too sick to travel?

  60. March 02, 2010 at 12:54 pm, Lisa Norman said:

    I received an email from Karen Hiller (Topeka city council) and she stated that the sanctuary would not take them both so the council decided to keep them until they hire a new director? If the elephants are not bonded why keep them together anyway????

  61. March 01, 2010 at 2:24 pm, Pamela Harp Gentry said:

    These are sentient beings who deserved our respect and love. It is up to us to care for them and be a voice for their needs. To mistreat them and keep them in inadequate conditions is disgraceful. We must keep up the fight for their welfare and those who mistreat them should suffer no less than harsh consequences!! “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animal are treated.” Mahatma Gandhi (Where in the world is this nation headed)?

  62. March 01, 2010 at 12:00 pm, Meredith Buist said:

    Animals in captivity for human entertainment needs to be laid to rest. It’s an outdated concept that is morally and ethically wrong on so many levels. None of the elephants in zoos right now should still be in these tight enclosures. The most appropriate place at this point is a sanctuary where they can live a more natural life and force people to learn that they should never be removed from their natural habitat to begin with. Humans have no right to do that.

  63. March 01, 2010 at 10:35 am, Johnnie White said:

    I hope he comes down with a foot problem and has to contiune to stand on it for hours. What a horrible man, is he even going to be there to see how this all turns out, or going to the other place to spread his kinda of joy! to the animals. He should be tied out in the cold with no clothes and no shoes. What kinda of people were these other no back bone to stand up to him. Is he God, no and Did God put elephants in his zoo? No, but he is a wanna be and good at being a bad boy to get his way. But you know God is watching and he is coming back. Hope he has cleaned up his act wouldn’t want to be him, or to have join him for Satan.

  64. March 01, 2010 at 9:54 am, Allenthx said:

    I hate to say this but sometimes humans are just too dumb for their own good. All of these beautiful creatures were put here to coexist with us so we could enjoy their beauty and also RESPECT them not try and make a buck off of them for our endulgent entertainment!!! It sickens me to see what they all get put through. None of them should be put in captivity but left in the wild in their natural environment. If one is strayed or injured then assistance may be needed but not for our selfish enjoyment!!!!!

  65. March 01, 2010 at 8:43 am, Carla said:

    I think we should bombard the zoo and anyone else who opposed the move with calls and letters.

  66. February 27, 2010 at 5:07 pm, Beth said:

    I wrote a letter and got a polite answer from a city council member. I feel so sorry for these beautiful animals. Please keep up your good work.

  67. February 27, 2010 at 10:40 am, Macdaddy said:

    I agree with Ms. Doyle as she says in her article, urging the Topeka city council to “..listen to facts and not emotional appeals.” As such, I have deleted the article. Perhaps she should begin taking her own advice.

  68. February 27, 2010 at 8:20 am, beki said:

    Take elephants to sanctuary , if you do care about them.
    Zoo is not place for them.

  69. February 27, 2010 at 7:15 am, P M Bonaventura said:

    Shameful and a disgrace to the U.S who consider themselves to be at the forefront of the world’s democratic nations…

    Yes, even here in Italy we hear about your shenanigans concerning animal abuse. Don’t accuse other nations until you clean up your act. (‘People who live in glass houses should not throw stones’. Or perhaps ‘The kettle calling the pot black’. )

    Clean Up Your Act…and FAST.

    • March 01, 2010 at 12:27 pm, Fern said:

      Know your own problems before saying about others. American Horses are being slaughter and sent to Italy for consumption. Horses shot with steroids for years are now on your plate. Clean up there too and faster.

  70. February 26, 2010 at 5:01 pm, Debra Mangum said:

    Leave these poor innocent Elephants ALONE! WE are the Animals….not them…stop! Please.