Troubled Topeka Zoo Faces Another Inspection
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Troubled Topeka Zoo Faces Another Inspection

From KCTV5 - June 23, 2010

TOPEKA, Kan. -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture will conduct another inspection at the Topeka Zoo in response to a complaint about animal deaths at the facility.

Stop Animal Exploitation Now filed the complaint Monday asking the USDA to suspend the zoo's license immediately, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported Wednesday.

USDA spokeswoman Andrea McNally said the agency is required to conduct a surprise inspection in response to the complaint. She said that would happen soon.

The complaint is the latest in a series of problems at the zoo. It has been the target of two critical reports since January, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums has deferred a decision on the facility's accreditation for a year and most of the managers left or were fired.

"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."

The Capital-Journal reported that SAEN's letter included some factual errors, such as claims that 12 animals died in 2009 and 2010. The majority of the animals died in 2006 and 2007. The letter said none of the animals was old or infirm before being sent to the zoo, 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, the newspaper reported. 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 zoo will strive 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 said the confusion the years the animals died came because the USDA didn't cite the zoo for the deaths until two separate inspection reports in August and September last year.

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

The USDA is already conducting an investigation into the animals' deaths. The results of that investigation probably won't be known for months, Wiley said.

The facility also is awaiting a decision next March by the AZA, its professional accrediting body, on whether to continue accrediting the zoo. The AZA tabled the zoo's accreditation this March in response to the problems.

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