African Elephant Lilac Turns 45 – Learn How She is Helping Advance Science for Her Species

May 1, 2023

This year, African elephant Lilac turns 45 years old. At this age, female African elephants are considered geriatric. She is in the middle of Seneca Park Zoo’s other elephants, Genny C (45) and Moki (40). Lilac participates in daily training sessions and daily bath sessions—plus she’s always eager to test out new enrichment items. Lilac has a lively personality!

Over her lifetime, Lilac has learned and maintained more than 50 different behaviors. Many of these behaviors allow Lilac to voluntarily participate in her own health care, such as presenting her feet for radiographs, allowing keepers to file her toenails, and opening her mouth for inspection of her teeth. Every time she chooses to participate, she gets tasty treats for reinforcement! All three of our elephants, including Lilac, are trained to participate in voluntary blood draws, where keepers are able to draw blood from behind the ear. These have always given us valuable information about the elephants’ health, but this year, Lilac’s blood is contributing to a global cause.


Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) is a naturally occurring virus in elephants, both in their natural range and in zoos. EEHV usually remains latent, but when EEHV becomes active, it can cause hemorrhagic disease in susceptible elephants. Many elephants are able to fight the virus on their own, but calves are the most susceptible to EEHV after they have been weaned, since they are not being protected by their mother’s antibodies.

There is currently no known cure, but knowledge from ongoing research has evolved and improved the treatment of EEHV. Currently, elephants can potentially recover if diagnosed and treated early. Our elephants here at Seneca Park Zoo are at low risk due to their age, but our Zoo is still able to contribute to the cause. Seneca Park Zoo collects elephant plasma to contribute to an “elephant blood bank” that is maintained by an alliance of zoos housing elephants that are able to collect plasma. There is currently no known cure for EEHV, but donated plasma can be used for research or to treat this virus in other elephants. This year, Lilac became a first-time plasma donor, and she did a great job!

She was patient with her keepers and veterinary staff, and she appeared to enjoy all the attention and variety of food treats. Because Lilac has a strong foundation with her voluntary medical behaviors, she is able to help other elephants around the world.

– Zoo Keeper Morgan Saidian

Lilac's "Birthday Cake" Enrichment

Masai Giraffe Kipenzi Turns 6!

Kipenzi is currently the oldest giraffe in our care at Seneca Park Zoo, and turns 6 this year!

Originally born at the Toledo Zoo on April 3rd 2017, she made her SPZ debut in August of 2018 and was the first member of our giraffe herd. She quickly won the hearts of her keepers and earned herself several nicknames, including Kippy, Kip, and Kip Kip Hooray!

Soon after her arrival she was joined by herdmates Iggy and Parker, creating SPZ’s first official tower (giraffe herd). Kippy is the friendliest of our giraffes and likes people watching almost as much as she loves smelling her keepers’ pants and shoes. She can often be seen at the feed deck during the summer months participating in our giraffe feed experience, and likes to keep the exhibit looking nice by eating leaves off the ground in her spare time.

She has also been a wonderful aunt to our baby Olmsted, and assists Iggy in checking up on him to make sure he is behaving.

Kippy also enjoys her training sessions, she has been taught to stand on our scale so we can check her weight (over 1,400 lbs.!) and she has learned to voluntarily put her foot up on cue so a blood sample can be taken to ensure she is in good health.

Of course, training a giraffe is no easy task, but Kippy is usually willing to try her best in exchange for some tasty carrot sticks. Kipenzi has been an amazing addition to SPZ and we are hopeful she will be with us for many years to come.

She can be easily identified by her ossicones (similar to horns), which curve in towards each other, creating a heart shape in-between. Her spots are also a bit darker in color than Iggy’s. 

We hope you take a minute to stop by and say hello to Kippy on your next visit  to the Zoo and wish her a happy birthday!
– Zoo Keeper Maggie Kinsella 

African Elephant Genny C Turns 45!

Genny C is one of our many beloved residents here at Seneca Park Zoo. She is the oldest of our three African elephants, just ahead of Lilac (44) and Moki (40).

Elephants are extremely smart and have many unique abilities. Over the course of her lifetime, Genny C has learned more than 50 different behaviors. Many of these behaviors help us with her daily care, such as lifting up each individual foot to file her nails or fanning out her ears for bath time. 

Especially important to maintain are her medical behaviors. These behaviors allow Genny C to voluntarily participate in her own health care. She is trained for a variety of voluntary medical behaviors, such as blood draws, foot radiographs, and opening her mouth for inspection of her teeth. Every time she chooses to participate, she receives many tasty treats as reinforcement. 

Genny C also knows a lot of exercise behaviors, including lying down and sitting. These behaviors help handlers assess how well she’s moving. Genny C has a strong bond with her keepers, and she is always an eager participant during training sessions. 


Elephants have strength to match their size–Genny C can even move logs! It is truly an awe-inspiring experience to watch her move one. Our elephants are routinely provided with fresh logs to move around on their own whenever they please, but every so often one will end up in a spot that is tricky for the keepers to move. That’s when Genny C comes in to help. She can quickly move the log out of the way, and we always have a yummy treat ready for her. It is her choice whether or not to help us move the logs, but she usually seems ready to lend a helping trunk. 

You may be surprised to learn that Genny C is also a very talented kickball player. During your zoo visit, you might be lucky enough to catch Genny C in action. We have a special ball that we can toss for the elephants, and Genny C can “kick” it with her trunk. Sometimes she can really get it to catch some air! Elephant kickball is a unique, mentally stimulating form of enrichment for our elephants. 

Over the years, Genny C has learned so many amazing things. Thanks for letting us share a few highlights! If you are looking for Genny C on exhibit, she is our tallest elephant, and she is very vocal. She can often be heard “purring.” 

– Zoo Keeper Morgan Saidian 

African Elephant Lilac Turned 44 – Happy Birthday!

May 3, 2022

African elephant Lilac celebrated her 44th birthday on Sunday! As many of you know, Lilac came to Seneca Park Zoo in 1979 as an orphan from Kruger National Park in South Africa along with Genny C. Lilac can be identified by her small stature and the hole in her left ear. If you also look very closely you can see that the hair on the top of her head is red!Because of her spunky personality she is typically the elephant playing chase with the other girls or trying to mess with them whereas Moki and Genny C. would much rather be napping in the sun or munching on hay.

Now considered geriatric, she has spent her years here winning over the hearts of many, including her keepers. The bond we each have with Lilac takes years to build as she is not easily swayed by even the best of treats, like bagels. As elephant keepers, we work daily on behaviors with each of the elephants to ensure that they can and will voluntarily participate in their own health care. This helps us keep them in the best shape possible both mentally and physically all while being proactive about any old age ailments that may arise.

Lilac turning 44 is a big deal in the elephant community. Nationwide, Lilac is the 4th oldest female African Elephant in conservation care. Genny C. is number 3! Because of this, we continue to strive to provide the best care possible to let all of these ladies live out their Golden Years in style!

On your next visit the zoo, don’t forget to stop by and wish Lilac a very Happy Birthday!

– Zoo Keeper Jenna Bovee

*Banner photo by Hanna Kaiser 

Happy Birthday to African Elephant Genny C!

Nov. 9, 2021

Happy Fall everyone! November is a very special month here at Seneca Park Zoo because it is Genny C’s birthday month! On November 1, Genny turned 44 and is our oldest resident here at Seneca Park Zoo. Being a geriatric elephant means there is more day-to-day care for her and she even receives regular acupuncture sessions to help her joints. Orphaned in Africa, she joined us in 1979 and has won the hearts of everyone who has met her ever since – especially her keepers! She is our tallest elephant and also has the shortest tusks. Another way to tell Genny C apart from the others is that she purrs – listen closely when you are at the elephant habitat and you may just hear her doing it! She truly enjoys spending quality time with her keepers – always ready to participate in a training session, especially if there are bagels, cabbage, or watermelon involved.Here are some of her keepers favorite things about her 🙂

“She is really sweet and a joy to work with” – Zookeeper Mike

“I love how she is patient with new keepers” – Zookeeper Hanna

“She is trusting and resilient” – Assistant Curator Lindsay

“I love that when she lays down to sleep she uses a tire pillow and that she purrs” – Zookeeper Kat

“She puts hay on her head and it looks like a hay hat!” – Zookeeper Jenna

Next time you come visit Seneca Park Zoo, come down to elephants and give our oldest lady a big wave and “Happy Birthday!” We hope to see you soon!

– Zookeeper Hanna Kaiser

Become a ZooParent!

*Banner photo by Wayne Smith

Happy [Belated] Birthday to African Elephant Moki!

Sept 22, 2021

Summer flew by (too fast in our opinion) but in light of Elephant Week we had to take a moment and celebrate a special birthday that happened over it. In July, a favorite lady of mine turned 39 years old – Moki the African Elephant! Our largest lady, weighing in around 9000 pounds, loves to spend her day eating. She is a food connoisseur and every time we check on the herd, she always comes over to see if we have anything tasty. Besides being our largest elephant, a great way to tell her apart is that she has the longest tusks! Tusks are modified incisor teeth that continuously grow throughout an elephant’s life. In the wild, elephants are poached for their ivory tusks, which along with human-elephant conflict, is the major threat to elephant conservation. Moki is also our only elephant who knows a behavior to make a noise from her trunk and waves – it is very cute to see!Moki was orphaned in Zimbabwe and brought over to the US. She lived at a few zoos before joining us in 2015 and has been a loved addition ever since. Here are her team’s favorite things about her 🙂

“She’s very observant and always keeps us on our toes.” – Lindsay, Assistant Curator of Hoofstock

“She tries to communicate with you by showing you what she wants.” – Jenna, Zoologist

“She’s got the tiniest voice when she speaks. I also love her beach ball body!” – Tina, Zoologist

“Moki is always willing to participate with me when asking for behaviors.” – Mike, Zookeeper

“I love that her tongue sticks out when she’s sucking on treats!” – Kat, Zookeeper

Next time you are visiting the zoo, please give Moki a wave and let us know your favorite things about her!

– Zoo Keeper Hanna Kaiser

*Banner photo by Hanna Kaiser

Lake Sturgeon Restoration in the Genesee River – A Success Story of Science Saving Species

August 2021

Just a few weeks ago, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, announced that they had found a spawning lake sturgeon in the Genesee River, for the first time in more than 50 years. This is the story of decades of work among conservation partners. This is a story of restoration of a species that was formerly extinct in the Zoo’s region, in our backyard, the Genesee River.

The Lost History of Lake Sturgeon

Lake sturgeon were once so abundant in the Great Lakes region that they were caught and discarded by fishermen. Today they are considered a threatened and vulnerable species.

Called the “Dinosaurs of the Great Lakes,” the lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) is the oldest and largest native species of fish in the Great Lakes.

Because of this, sturgeon are often called “swimming fossils”, having inhabited the Great Lakes region for more than 10,000 years.

The lake sturgeon was revered by the Native Americans, with the fish providing food, oil, and leather. As North America’s population grew, sturgeon became a valuable food and fuel source. This led to overfishing and the population declined rapidly. In 1929, commercial and sport fishing of lake sturgeon was closed. The lake sturgeon’s numbers have also dropped because its spawning grounds are being destroyed and polluted.

Lake Sturgeon on the Decline

Lake sturgeon are large-bodied and spawn only intermittently, having an extremely slow reproductive cycle. These characteristics, along with habitat degradation, led to severe declines in New York State’s spawning populations.

The state listed the lake sturgeon as a threatened species in 1983. By the late 1980s lake sturgeon – a fish present in New York’s waters for 85 million years – were extirpated, or regionally extinct in the Genesee River due to pollution, habitat loss and overfishing.

The Rochester Embayment was designated an Area of Concern by the EPA in 1987. The embayment area includes the mouth of the Genesee River and six miles south to Lower Falls, an area once critical for sturgeon breeding. During this time concentrated efforts to clean up the Genesee River began. In 2003, after years of pollution restriction, scientific assessments of habitat confirm an improved Genesee River health may be suitable for sturgeon reintroduction and survival.



Environmental Cleanup and Habitat Restoration

From 2003 – 2004, the U.S. Geological Survey together with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation stocked the Genesee River with 1,900 juvenile lake sturgeon to restore the species to its natural habitat. For the next decade, annual netting data including morphometrics (length, girth, weight) and population estimates (mark and recapture data) demonstrated that the sturgeon released in 2003/2004 were thriving. Since 2003, 7,500 hatchery-reared sturgeon (about 1,000 per year) have been released into a healthier Genesee River. All data provide evidence of a flourishing sturgeon population including 15-year-old spawning males found in 2018. At this time there were still no spawning females found but hope remained for 2021.

“This is a great story of how conservation takes time and dedication to see it through to success.”

On May 25, 2021, lead scientist Dr. Dawn Dittman, who has been working with the DEC to collect scientific data on lake sturgeon since the inception of the stocking program nearly 30 years ago, and the field crew from the USGS Tunison Laboratory of Aquatic Science pulled a 61-inch, nearly 70-pound female lake sturgeon from the Genesee River. This 18-year-old female sturgeon was one of the stocked juveniles, and now had mature eggs: eggs that will help produce another generation.


This is a success story that underlines the importance of partnerships. Science and regulatory agencies USGS, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Environmental Protection Agency and the Monroe County Department of Health depend on non-profit organizations like the Seneca Park Zoo Society that help to educate the public about lake sturgeon and the Genesee River ecosystem.

Past, Present, and Future

More than two decades ago, Dr. Jeff Wyatt, then Seneca Park Zoo Director of Animal Health & Conservation, was introduced to Dr. Dawn Dittman PhD, USGS Aquatic Ecologist. Dr. Dittman was just beginning a new project restoring a native fish, the lake sturgeon, in the lower Genesee River adjacent to Seneca Park Zoo. Our two worlds, the USGS Tunison Aquatic Science Center and Seneca Park Zoo, intersected with this chance encounter growing over nearly two decades into Rochester’s most successful ever “rewilding” and biodiversity enhancement initiative. The Seneca Park Zoo has juvenile sturgeon on exhibit in our E.C.O. Center and has a long history promoting Genesee River ecosystem health, participating in the County’s Remedial Action Plan for delisting Rochester’s EPA AOC and demonstrating our Zoo’s commitment to restoration and conservation of a native species that disappeared from the Genesee almost 100 years ago. The Zoo has spent almost two decades advancing lake sturgeon restoration in the Genesee River.

The Zoo’s Urban Ecologists have participated in the sturgeon restoration program since its origin. Our Urban Ecologists helped in engaging the community through public presentations and participation to raise awareness about the program. Through a strong understanding of the role of sturgeon in the Genesee River ecosystem, they are able to teach others about the importance of the reintroduction program, and play an active role in returning this once locally extinct fish to our waters. The Seneca Park Zoo is proud to be the temporary home to juvenile lake sturgeon each year to share these amazing fish with the public.


We are incredibly proud to see our work on the Rochester Embayment Area of Concern coming to such tangible fruition with the return of spawning lake sturgeon. The lake sturgeon restoration program relies on science to safely reintroduce hatchery-reared sturgeon into the lower Genesee River adjacent to Seneca Park.

“This is a great story of how conservation takes time and dedication to see it through to success.” says Seneca Park Zoo Director Steve Lacy. Lacy continues, “While lake sturgeon aren’t out of the woods yet, we are starting to see the results of lots of hard work by many people, including the team at Seneca Park Zoo. Most importantly, I think this story should give us all hope, we can make a difference, we can change the world. I am excited to see what is coming for lake sturgeon, and all of the conservation efforts the Zoo supports.”



Almost twenty years of collaboration between the United States Geological Survey (USGS), New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Seneca Park Zoo underscores how conservation partners and a community may bring an indigenous species back from the brink of extinction.

Visit hatchery-reared, juvenile sturgeon in the E.C.O. Center before being released by USGS and NYSDEC when they reach two years of age.


Protecting our Lake Sturgeon

If you accidentally catch a sturgeon when fishing, try to take a photograph without removing the fish completely out of the water. Write down the number on the yellow tag at base of dorsal or pectoral fin and report your information to NYSDEC. It’s ok to cut the fishing line if you cannot see the hook since sturgeon digest fishing hooks as easily as zebra mussel shells. To report a catch, if you see anglers catching or targeting sturgeon, or see a sturgeon washed up on the beach, contact NYSDEC at [email protected] or call 585-226-5366.

Happy Birthday to African Elephant Lilac!

June 25, 2021

With so much activity here at the Zoo lately, we wanted to take a moment to celebrate a very special and loved lady here at the zoo. Lilac turned 43 last month (May 1st)! Orphaned as a calf in South Africa, Lilac joined our family here at Seneca Park Zoo in 1979 with Genny C. Since then, she has been a favorite of guests and keepers – I’d even go as far to say she is an icon here in Rochester! She is our smallest elephant, currently around 7,000 pounds, and if you look closely you can see her hair is actually red. Don’t let her small size fool you, she is affectionately known as a “little packet of hot sauce” and completes our herd as being the sassy, spunky one who loves to keep her caregivers on their toes.One of my favorite things about Lilac is that she is motivated more by her relationships with us than by food. This means that she won’t just come over to you because you have food; she comes because you have spent the time for her to get to know you. This is why she is usually the last elephant that new keepers train with. But because it requires so much time and effort, the relationship with her is the most rewarding. It is a highlight of my career when I knew we hit that mark.

Turning 43 is a big deal in the elephant world. The average life expectancy for African Elephants is around 39 years old, so all three of our elephants are considered geriatric. That’s why it is so important to take that time to build a relationship with all of them, so we can ensure they age gracefully and are able to provide whatever care they need. My favorite thing about her is that you would never know she is 43 – she still acts like a young calf running around and playing with her enrichment.

The next time you are at the zoo, please stop by elephants and wish our gorgeous, little gal a BIG Happy (belated) Birthday!

– Zoo Keeper Hanna Kaiser

*Banner photo by Hanna Kaiser 

Here’s the Dirt on the Baboons’ New “Digs”

December 2, 2020

If you’ve been to the Zoo lately, you may have noticed our incredible new baboon habitat. The baboon habitat opened as part of the A Step into Africa expansion in 2008, and, apart from some cosmetic work, it was largely unchanged since then. Our animal care staff noted that the baboons needed something new, so they made a plan to add a couple of new platforms. When Assistant Zoo Director Dr. Louis asked for help from Parks Director Patrick Meredith, Assistant Parks Director Chris Kirchmaier, and Horticulture Superintendent Mark Quinn, and the Zoo Docents contributed an enrichment grant to help make it possible, the plan exploded. The creativity of the Parks Department staff resulted in an environment rich with options for the baboons. By repurposing fallen trees from throughout Monroe County’s Parks, they used sustainable and naturalistic materials to build in new furniture throughout the habitat. Even more impressive, the Parks crew worked through nearly two weeks of daily rain and mud, placing large logs mostly by hand to facilitate a naturalistic but fun new design.  With the job complete, the results are amazing! So, a huge shout out to our amazing Monroe County Parks Department!Unlike what you see on your favorite home improvement shows, our baboons didn’t have to move out during renovations. They were able to enjoy their new home, and supervise the progress, as it was being constructed. The Parks crew was especially sensitive to ending each day at a “baboon-friendly” stopping point, so that the animals could assess the quality of each day’s work! And on the final day, it was a sight to see when the baboons were able to fully explore all the new additions to their home, and they continue to do so on a daily basis.

The new baboon abode provides an endless number of novel opportunities for digging, climbing, jumping, foraging, bouncing, lounging and just plain “hanging out”. You may not have known that baboons like to dig for insects and worms in the dirt, and they now have plenty of new soil to dig in!

Unlike other monkeys, baboons spend a lot of their time on the ground but they do sleep, eat, hang out and keep watch up high. So, we added logs and trees for climbing and sitting. Baboons also have a playful side, and we accommodated that too! For instance, there are hanging platforms and trampolines for jumping and swinging.

The novelty of the habitat enhancement is sustainable because we have options for hanging different enrichment items, like swings, that provide interest each day to enhance and improve the lives of our troop. Providing this enrichment on a daily basis is a very important aspect of what we do because it gives the animals choices in how they spend their time, control over their environment, and the opportunity to express their natural behaviors. In turn, this effort enhances their wellbeing.

While we’ve seen all the baboons up on new perches and trees, one baboon in particular has taken an extra liking to the trampolines! Kalamata bounces on the trampolines and makes his way from one side of the enclosure to the other by jumping off all the new platforms, without even touching the ground! He also uses the trampolines to lounge in the sun. It’s been amazing to watch him enjoy one of the structures we were most excited about!

So, please share in our excitement and plan a visit to the zoo so you can see for yourself how the baboons are doing in their new “digs”.

– Dr. Louis DiVincenti, Assistant Zoo Director – Animal Care & Conservation; Zoologist Jenna Bovee; Zoo Keeper Clare Belden; Zoo Keeper Linda Velasquez

Header photo –  by Clare Belden

Spencer’s “Animal of the Day”

November 11, 2020

It started when Spencer was very young, his love of animals and his ability to memorize facts.  As parents of those with autism, we are encouraged to use interests and obsessions to further educate, and so we did.  We added geography, where the animals are found and an abundance of science.  He memorized facts from videos, movies, books, stories and created scripts in his head about the animals.  At 17, he became a ZooTeen helping to enrich the experience of visitors to the Zoo.  This served a new purpose, as his animal knowledge was more than sufficient, he could use this strength to improve his socialization skills.  After two summers, he became a ZooTeen Leader.  

Even our family vacations catered to Seneca Park Zoo animals.  We visited Dhara (orangutan) at The Virginia Zoo, The Mystic Aquarium where Boomerang (sea lion) came from,  Cape May Zoo where Kaba (snow leopard) came from and Columbia, SC to check in on PJ (sea lion).  On these trips he would go into “docent” mode speaking to guests at these zoos about the animals.  I remember a specific interaction in Virginia overlooking an African habitat with multiple animals.  Twenty or so guests were taking in the view when he looked down from the decked area and pronounced loudly, “Wow, look at that yellow backed duiker”, and proceeded to tell us all about it.     I’m guessing none of us would have even noticed the animal tucked away under where we were standing, but all of our attention was immediately drawn to it.  That’s the awesome thing about him.  His passion is contagious.  


In March when his school program became minimal and virtual, he got the idea of sharing his passion virtually.  He created short 1-3 minute video clips on an animal each day and we posted them to Facebook His following caught on quickly and comments were shared including questions which were researched and answered.  Deb McGwin who had taken his senior photos created a tee-shirt for him as a gift, and by thanking her on Facebook, other “fans” of his requested shirts.  Imprintable Solutions created a link where those interested could purchase a shirt and added $4 as a donation to be collected for him to present to our Seneca Park Zoo.  His first check presentation is for 158 shirt sales or $632.  His following continues to grow and fans watch him now from Canada, Florida, California, Colorado. We love the interactions with viewers sharing their own photos and experiences with the animal of the day.  


At a time with heightened anxiety and uncertainty around Covid, Spencer’s videos bring a bright spot to many people’s days.  His personality and passion oozes.  As the number of videos increases each day (currently #234), it’s a reminder to many of how long we’ve been restricted.  To us, it is a reminder of his passion and diligence to give back to his community.  


-Ann Cole, Spencer’s Mom