Poll: Emails Advocate Move of Zoo Elephants 2012-02-06
Original Post: January 31, 2012
By Tim Hrenchir
Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal
Tembo, left, a 40-year-old African elephant, and Sunda, a 49-year-old Asian elephant bask in Tuesday's mild temperatures. An animal-rights group is advocating to have the two elephants moved from the Topeka Zoo to a Tennessee sanctuary.
Animal advocates are sending a large number of emails to the Topeka City Council asking it to send Topeka Zoo elephants Sunda and Tembo to a sanctuary in Tennessee.
Councilman Andrew Gray said he checked his city email account last week and found that topic was addressed by about 75 percent of the hundreds of emails he had received.
"I am curious what others may think about this," Gray wrote Friday on his personal Facebook page.
Councilman Chad Manspeaker said Tuesday he had received more than 300 emails on the topic, with almost all being linked to a petition that — until recently — was available for the public to sign at www.change.org/petitions/free-zoo-elephants.
The website indicated Tuesday that 326 people had signed the petition, which asks that Sunda and Tempo be moved to the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn.
Animal Outreach of Kansas, a nonprofit organization, announced Jan. 11 it had put up two billboards along S.W. Gage Boulevard as part of a campaign to convince the city to retire 49-year-old Sunda, an Asian elephant, and 40-year-old Tembo, an African elephant, to the Elephant Sanctuary. The billboards are located near Gage's intersections with Interstate 70 and S.W. 20th Street.
"AOK is drawing attention to retiring the elephants as a way to help the elephants and the zoo," said AOK co-founder Judy Carman. "The Topeka Zoo has been struggling to overcome its poor image, but as long as the elephants remain there, animal welfare will continue to be a serious concern."
Animal advocates sought unsuccessfully to convince the city to send the elephants to the sanctuary in February 2010, when the council voted 7-1 not to make that move.
Councilman John Alcala voted in favor of the transfer, while council members Karen Hiller, Jack Woelfel, Larry Wolgast, Deborah Swank, Bob Archer, Jeff Preisner and Richard Harmon voted against it. Councilwoman Sylvia Ortiz was absent from that meeting.
Preisner, Swank and Woelfel were replaced last year on the council by Gray, Manspeaker and Councilwoman Denise Everhart.
The city since the February 2010 vote also has brought in new leadership at the zoo, where director Brendan Wiley was hired in May 2010.
Wiley opposes sending the elephants to the sanctuary, saying one reason he accepted the zoo director's job was the positive response he saw the elephants give to their keepers.
Gray said this week that he values Wiley's opinion and trusts his administration of the zoo.
"He's taken it from almost utter destruction and is rebuilding it slowly, but nevertheless I'm always open to a viewpoint I may not be aware of," Gray said.
He said he planned to meet Thursday with Carman.
Manspeaker said he remained unconvinced that Sunda and Tembo should be moved, in part because "all but a few" of the emails he has received asking the city to take that step came from people who live outside of Topeka.
Manspeaker said a few Topekans asked him to support the move, though none of them live in the council district he represents.
"If this is truly something that the citizens want to see remedied then I would like to hear from them, but at this point I'm not hearing from the citizens of Topeka saying that it's a problem," he said.
Meanwhile, Alcala said Tuesday that Sunda and Tembo have been well cared for during Wiley's time as zoo director but Alcala still supports moving the elephants because they are getting older and they need more room.
"We need to find more space if we are going to keep elephants in Topeka but hey, I'm just one vote," Alcala said.
People wishing to share their views with council members may email them at email@example.com, call the council office at (785) 368-3710 or write to them at City Hall, 215 S.E. 7th, Topeka 66603, Room 255.
Tim Hrenchir can be reached at (785) 295-1184
or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @timhrenchir.