Possible Move of Elephants Weighed
Original post: April 5, 2012
By Tim Hrenchir
No city officials showed up for a meeting Thursday evening focusing on whether Topeka Zoo elephants Sunda and Tembo should be moved to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee.
But organizers said they were pleased with the interest the public showed in the event, where those on hand used Skype online audio and video software to ask questions of Rob Atkinson, CEO of The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn.
About 35 people attended the gathering, which was held by Animal Outreach of Kansas at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.
Atkinson said residents would still be able to keep up with Sunda and Tembo if they are moved to the sanctuary by going to its website at http://www.elephants.com/ or its Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/ElephantSanctuaryTN.
"We will inundate you with updates on how they're doing," he said.
AOK co-founders Judy Carman and Ann Wilson said they have tried for five years to convince the Topeka Zoo to have Sunda, its female Asian elephant, and Tembo, its female African elephant, moved elsewhere. Sunda is about 50 years old, while Tembo is about 40. They have been together at the zoo since Tembo arrived in 1976.
New Association of Zoos and Aquariums standards targeted at encouraging pachyderm reproduction in zoos require the Topeka Zoo — should it continue to display elephants — to have at least three elephants of the same species by 2016.
The Topeka Zoo plans to make a decision by late spring regarding the future of elephants there, Wiley said last week.
He said that zoo has enough space to house more elephants but would "definitely need to expand our footprint" and incur added costs to do that.
The 2,700-acre elephant sanctuary, located 85 miles southwest of Nashville, Tenn., has offered since February 2010 to pay all costs of moving Sunda and Tembo. The Topeka City Council voted that month not to move the elephants.
AOK, a nonprofit organization, began another push in January to convince the city to move Sunda and Tembo to the sanctuary.
Its website says the sanctuary was founded in 1995 and exists for two reasons:
- To provide a haven for old, sick or needy elephants in a setting of green pastures, dense forests, spring-fed ponds and heated barns for cold winter nights.
- To provide education about the crisis facing the creatures.
AOK arranged last month to enable city officials to take a private tour of the sanctuary. It invited zoo director Brendan Wiley, interim city manager Dan Stanley, Mayor Bill Bunten and the nine city council members, but all said they couldn't.
"So what we wanted to do was bring the sanctuary to Kansas," Wilson said.
The gathering featured the showing of a 12-minute film about The Elephant Sanctuary. Speaking by Skype from that location, Atkinson indicated Sunda and Tembo — if moved — would be taken there by trailer.
The sanctuary says on its website that 14 elephants live there.
Atkinson said Sunda would live with Asian elephants, while Tembo would live with African elephants.
When an audience member asked if separating the elephants would be detrimental considering they have been together so long, Atkinson suggested it wouldn't be.
He said information he had indicated the elephants hadn't strongly bonded, and that aggression at times exists between them.
Atkinson said he thought Sunda and Tembo would form closer and stronger relationships with elephants of their own species.