Suspend Zoo's License
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Suspend Zoo's License

By James Carlson on CJOnline

Created June 22, 2010 at 2:38pm

Updated June 22, 2010 at 4:34pm

Complaint includes some questionable assertions

The Topeka Zoo will be inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture sometime in the near future after the federal agency this week received a formal complaint by an animal welfare group.

Stop Animal Exploitation Now! sent a letter to the USDA on Monday asking that the Topeka Zoo's license be immediately suspended because of animal deaths in the past four years.

"By temporarily suspending the license the zoo will not be dealing with public concerns until they have animal care and structure in place," wrote Don Elroy, director of captive wildlife advocacy for SAEN. "We believe this is a necessary step to ensure the welfare of the animals at this facility."

USDA spokeswoman Andrea McNally said the agency is required to conduct a surprise inspection after it receives a formal complaint. The agency will do that in the near future, she said.

SAEN's letter included some factual errors and wild statements in support of the group's complaint. It stated 12 animals have died in 2009 and 2010. The majority of those animals died in 2006 and 2007. It also stated none of the animals was old or infirm prior to coming to Topeka and that a hippo was "literally boiled to death."

SubMarie, a hippo that suffered a fatal seizure in October 2006 two hours after it was found in 108-degree water, was 53 years old, one of the oldest hippos in captivity. She had been with the zoo since 1977.

"While we respect the rights of the animal welfare group to print and say whatever they want and believe, we would hope they would be responsible enough to ensure the information is accurate," said zoo director Brendan Wiley.

He said the group's complaint won't change the facility's action, "which is to fully comply with USDA standards and (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) guidelines, and we will continue to work daily to meet those objectives."

Elroy blamed the USDA's inspection reports for the error in dates. While most of the animal deaths happened in 2006 or 2007, the federal agency didn't cite the zoo for the deaths until two separate inspection reports in August and September last year. And those reports didn't indicate when the described incidents occurred.

"Why are they citing the zoo in 2009 for animal deaths that occurred three years prior?" Elroy asked.

The zoo is already under investigation by the USDA over the referenced animal deaths. An investigation is a step up in the enforcement process from routine inspections and can result in anything from a written warning to a fine to suspension or revocation of the zoo's license to exhibit animals. Results of that investigation most likely won't be known for months, Wiley said.

The facility also is awaiting a decision next March by the AZA, its professional accrediting body, which will decide whether to continue accrediting the facility. AZA accreditation denotes a zoo's stellar record as an animal exhibitor and allows it to share animals with other AZA zoos. The AZA tabled the zoo's accreditation this March over the problems at the zoo.

James Carlson can be reached at (785) 295-1186 or [email protected] and tweets at

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