Newsletters - The Defender
Summer 2010 Issue

Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
S. A. E. N.
"Exposing the truth to wipe out animal experimentation"

Topeka Zoo among Nation’s Worst with 12 Negligent Animal Deaths

by Don Elroy, Director of Captive Wildlife Advocacy

As you have seen in many articles in issues of The Defender, animals often die as a result of negligence on the part of the entities imprisoning them. This is just as true for zoos as for any other facility that the USDA inspects. And just as the USDA has allowed laboratories to abuse animals with impunity, many zoos are given the same freedom from penalties.

The USDA has cited the Topeka Zoo (KS) for 12 animal deaths which took place from 2006 to 2010 without any fines or penalties. These deaths which have taken place at this facility are almost too difficult to read:

A hippopotamus at this zoo died because she was boiled to death in water that was well over 100 degrees. A pallas cat died without medical care from endotoxemia secondary to maggot infestation, a rabbit also died from maggot infestation, a pronghorn was found dead in the enclosure after being allowed access to other pronghorns, a chevrotain was found dead in a crate after being left alone, three flying foxes died after being attacked by an alligator, a leopard died after being treated with expired drugs for nine days, a tamandu died after becoming severely emaciated while keepers noted no change in body weight or condition, and a lion cub died from an acute hemorrhage due to a fall. The latest death involved another chevrotain who died after being stressed by undergoing anesthesia and four TB tests due to having only one functional lung and lung myopathy.

Current USDA inspection reports also cite the zoo for elephant problems and for a break-in at the zoo as well as the escape of a bobcat who had been declawed, a clear violation of USDA policy and AVMA guidelines. The zoo "failed to provide a barrier between the general viewing public and the bobcat," stated a USDA report. The zoo described the bobcat as “domesticated, docile and declawed." The USDA, however, disagreed and cited the zoo.

On the whole, 2009 and 2010 USDA inspection reports cited the Topeka Zoo for violations of veterinary regulations, handling regulations, housing facilities, environmental enhancement, facilities general, employees, sanitation, separation of animals, cleaning/sanitizing/housekeeping, and feeding.

Another regulatory body, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), claims to be the ultimate accreditation body for zoos across the country and also claims superiority in knowledge and expertise on captive animals. However, this entity has also taken no action against the Topeka Zoo, despite multiple animal deaths.

The only AZA action taken against the Topeka Zoo was the recent tabling of accreditation during the hiring process for a new zoo director. However, the only findings by AZA, after a zoo visit undertaken at the request of the city of Topeka, were the following statement regarding the recent animal deaths:

“Our Team did not find specific examples of veterinary care that did not meet professional standards. There was evidence of the need for improved communications regarding identification of cases and communication between veterinary and management staff.”

Apparently, the regulators and the accreditors both accept animal deaths as “collateral damage” because neither views individual animals as the deciding factor in their evaluation of a facility. The differing philosophy between these bodies and animal protection organizations, such as SAEN, come to a critical division on this issue. Both regulator (USDA) and accreditor (AZA) believe that the greater good of the species outweighs the rights of the individual animal. SAEN believes that each animal has specific importance and specific rights.

In June of 2010, SAEN filed an official complaint with the USDA against the Topeka Zoo requesting the immediate suspension of its license. Additionally, we have sent a letter to the AZA accreditation committee challenging their findings and requesting that the accreditation for the Topeka zoo be cancelled.

Both SAEN’s USDA complaint and SAEN’s AZA accreditation cancellation request stirred up a whirlwind of news coverage in Kansas. The Topeka Capital Journal ran a major story while KOAM, KSNT, KCTV, and KTKA television stations extensively covered our complaints as well.

It is clear that both the AZA and USDA do not consider the negligent deaths of animals to be sufficient cause for action. Rome is burning due to lack of concern by regulation and accreditation bodies. As they watch and fiddle, the animals burn and suffer due to their lack of regulatory response.

Be assured that SAEN will continue monitoring this situation and filing complaints until the AZA and USDA understand that no animals are expendable.

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