BREAKING NEWS: Elephant Death at America’s Worst Zoo Prompts Calls for Release

BREAKING NEWS: Elephant Death at America’s Worst Zoo Prompts Calls for Release

CONTACT: Toni Frohoff, Ph.D.,, 805-836-0496



Topeka, KS (September 12, 2018) – In Defense of Animals has renewed its calls to release elephants to a sanctuary from the Topeka Zoo following the death today of Sunda the elephant, the second elephant death in two years at the Zoo which is named worst in North America.

Sunda, a beautiful female Asian elephant, died today at age 58. In Defense of Animals placed Topeka Zoo as the #1 worst offender last year in its annual list of 10 Worst Zoos in North America. In Defense of Animals identified Topeka Zoo as the “worst zoo” following the untimely, unnecessarily prolonged, and particularly grueling death of a 35-year-old elephant named Shannon and a long list of animal welfare citations.

“Sunda’s death was a tragedy and yet another example of how captive elephants perish before their wild counterparts,” said Toni Frohoff, Ph.D., Elephant Scientist for In Defense of Animals. “Fifty-eight years of age is not old for Asian elephants in the wild where they can live well into their 70s and even 80s. Captivity cuts elephants’ lives short, even while providing unlimited access to food, water, veterinary treatment, and protection from predators.”

In Defense of Animals is reaffirming its urgent call for the Topeka Zoo to release surviving Asian elephants, Cora and Tembo, to an accredited sanctuary where they can get the best possible care and permanently shut down this failed elephant exhibit.

Dr. Frohoff explained, “Shannon's death last year fully exposed Topeka Zoo’s inability to care for elephants which is why we named it the Worst Zoo for Elephants in North America. The USDA has cited Topeka Zoo multiple times and we urge them to heed these tragic elephant deaths as an urgent wake-up call to release all surviving elephants to a sanctuary immediately: the elephants’ survival depends on it.”

Sunda and Shannon’s deaths are indicative of the longtime problems that have plagued Topeka Zoo. This zoo has been cited numerous times for violations of Federal Animal Welfare regulations that include animal deaths, injuries, and lack of proper veterinary care. In 2013, the zoo paid a $45,000 civil penalty to settle charges brought against it by the USDA for at least 51 willful violations of the Animal Welfare Act (12 of the violations took place after Brendan Wiley became Zoo Director). The charges included failure to provide adequate veterinary care for elephants Tembo and Sunda, including problems with their skin, feet, and nutrition.

In Defense of Animals published last year’s 10 Worst Zoos list warning that “the elephants remaining at this zoo are at risk” and called on the Topeka Zoo to “avert further tragedy and release these elephants to an accredited sanctuary uniquely equipped and skilled at providing for the needs of elephants. Short of that, we call upon the USDA to confiscate these elephants.”

In Defense of Animals previously exposed Sunda’s history of chronic foot disease caused by lack of movement and standing on hard surfaces throughout many years. It cautioned that “Topeka's cold winters only exacerbate any health problems, as the elephants are forced to remain indoors - with minimal exercise - for excessively long periods.”

Topeka Zoo was shamed as the #1 worst zoo on In Defense of Animals list of 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America for 2017 -  and was listed as one of the 10 worst zoos five times previously.

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In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization with over 250,000 supporters and a 30-year history of fighting for animals, people and the environment through education, campaigns and hands-on rescue facilities in India, Africa, and rural Mississippi.

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