Upstate Zoo Conference a chilly success

It was cold Tuesday! Usually when we welcome visitors from other zoos, we joke about, and maybe even apologize for, Rochester’s fickle weather. Not this time. Our visitors were (mostly) colleagues from other upstate zoos who are accustomed to our weather challenges. The focus therefore rested on how we could collaborate and communicate with one another to perhaps solve problems like “How would we incorporate home school or family-style learning into an appealing and informative exhibit or program?” or “How would we support our fellow zoos in the case of a disaster?” We were able present our solutions for animal care challenges and innovations in aquatic life support. We discussed marketing practices and membership tools, recruiting board members and exhibit creation.

Photos by Michele Schpisi-Ritchie, Office Assistant

As the conference began, we chatted with our counterparts from other zoos, shared anecdotes and listened to Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks welcome attendees to the Zoo. Keynote speaker, Craig Piper, Director of City Zoos at Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), discussed opportunities to partner with WCS on the field conservation work they conduct the world over. He inquired about examples of local efforts in field conservation, such as Seneca Park Zoo’s Lake Ontario Sturgeon Reintroduction Program. He fielded questions about seeking out conservation resources and partners in remote areas of the world. He provided an interesting perspective on how budgeting for conservation has changed and could be changed to incorporate efforts on both local and global scales. Once the discussion concluded, attendees moved on to sessions designed to promote dialogue on some issues that affect every zoo and unique issues that would foster suggestions from our colleagues’ perspectives.

The day wasn’t all about deep discussion and problem solving however. Seneca Park Zoo staff took the opportunity to offer tours of some of our favorite areas of the Zoo. Some of us went behind the scenes to view the African lion holding area. Others toured the African elephant barn and saw the heavy hydraulic doors in action. I personally met California sea lions Lily and Marina while listening to Zoologist Mary Ellen Ostrander gush about how wonderful they have been to train and how protective they are of little pup P.J. And, I pet a rhino! It was quite a thrill. Bill the white rhino stood patiently by while Zoologist Tina Fess discussed his temperament and weight and his favorite food—bananas. We were able to feed Bill some bananas and watch his tail curl with happiness. (Are you a Special Friend Member of the Zoo? You may be eligible to feed a rhino or meet a sea lion, too! Click here for more information.)

The day concluded amidst flurries of ideas, new connections and, of course, snow. This conference is another example of how we at the Zoo strive to promote collaboration, conservation, animal care, education and more. And each one of these efforts reinforces the Zoo’s assertion of being “The Natural Place for Families.”

Thank you to the following institutions for sending delegates to the 2013 Upstate Zoo Conference: Buffalo Zoo; Erie Zoological Society; Utica Zoo; Aquarium of Niagara; Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park; Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park (Syracuse); Trevor Zoo (Millbrook); The New York State Zoo at Thompson Park (Watertown); The Wild Center (Tupper Lake); Wildlife Conservation Society (New York City).

– Michele Schepisi-Ritchie, Office Assistant