Reporting Out on the Zoo’s Conservation Action Plan

Lake sturgeon photo by Julia Schlenker

This article first ran in our ZooNooz April 2024 edition. Written by Pamela Reed Sanchez, President & CEO Seneca Park Zoo Society.

If you ever watched “The Zoo” on Animal Planet, you undoubtedly were introduced to Jim Breheny, Director of the Bronx Zoo. Jim, a former chair of the board of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), heads a fantastic organization known for its outstanding animal care, guest experiences, and conservation work. At one of the first conferences I attended in the Zoo world, Jim took the microphone, and said, “We can have great guest programs, and the best in animal care, but at the end of the day, why’s the monkey in a cage?”

This question gets to the heart of why zoos exist: to connect people to the animals in our care in a way that inspires them to act on behalf of these species, and the planet. The animals here serve a higher purpose: they are ambassadors for their counterparts in nature, species that we simply MUST all care about enough to take action to ensure their long-term survival.

Zoos and aquariums accredited by AZA are required to create and implement a Conservation Action Plan, which essentially is the strategic framework for how the institution accomplishes their mission. At Seneca Park Zoo, the Conservation Action Plan is updated annually, with five-year goals and annual objectives. While many of us on the “inside” are aware of the Conservation Action Plan and how it informs our work, we don’t often report out on it, to you, our members.

The entire plan is a very detailed, dense, document so the outline below gives you an overview of the pillars of the plan, and how we work to enact it.


Pillar One: Become known as a conservation organization

The Zoo’s vision is to be a national leader in education and conservation action for species survival, and we are. Yet, not a single week goes by when we don’t hear the words, “I didn’t know the Zoo did that” in reference to our conservation work. Many people still know us primarily for being a great place to visit with family and friends and remain unaware that the Zoo is a conservation organization.

Nature Cart & Zoo Naturalist IMG_6931_Beth (3)
Photo by Beth LaPierre

The Zoo’s vision is to be a national leader in education and conservation action for species survival, and we are.

We work to ensure every touch point with the Zoo reminds you we not only care about the animals here at the Zoo, but we are committed to conservation in our community, regionally, and internationally.

Our guest surveys indicate we’re on the right track, with 95% of guests reporting they are aware the Zoo is a conservation organization, aware we are working actively to save animals from extinction, and aware we are working to restore native habitat. We want every guest, to feel hopeful and to have learned something they can do to help save animals from extinction. This year, you’ll see more conservation awareness activities at special event fundraisers like Birds, Beers, and Brews, Sustainable Table dinners, and more.

Pillar Two: Be a role model for sustainability

In essence, walk the walk, and not just talk. We teach sustainability to our guests, and we want to model that behavior in every way we can. We work to eliminate single use plastics, to recycle and compost, and conserve water. You’ll find reusable plates and utensils at Trailside Café, and water in aluminum, not plastic, bottles. These are small, but important, acts of sustainability.

This year, we will be taking a closer look at what it would take to become a zero-waste to landfill organization. We have some special constraints, but the first step in 2023 is to identify barriers and begin to build strategy to remove those barriers where we are able.

Pillar Three: Protect species through conservation research and action

This pillar speaks to a large set of activities across the entire Zoo aimed at our own efforts to save animals from extinction, as well as empowering others to act.

The work of our Animal Care and Animal Health teams extends far beyond what a guest sees or hears on the news. Many of these efforts are classified as “Science Saving Species”. Through collaboration with universities, state and federal agencies, nonprofits, and other zoos Seneca Park Zoo advances the understanding of biology, physiology, and well-being in a variety of species. One key example is assisted reproduction, where Seneca Park Zoo actively works with the scientists at CREW (Center for Conservation Research of Endangered Wildlife) contributing to the science and the species, of lynx, polar bear, and African lions.

The Zoo is actively involved in scientific studies and research that span the activities and species here. In 2023, the Zoo collaborated with scientists at Carnegie Mellon, George Mason University, the University of Rochester, RIT, St. John Fisher, University of Iowa, University of Missouri, University of Oxford, as well as Binder Park Zoo, CREW and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Research included red pandas, African penguins, bats, polar bears, North American river otters, African lions, snakes, giraffe, snow leopards, and the many species that share habitat with us in Monroe County.

Photo by Wayne Smith
Every program we deliver – on site for the public, in a classroom, in a program, or out in the community – is designed to connect people to nature and inspire them not just to care, but to act to conserve wildlife and wild places. We aim to create the next generation of environmental stewards, actively working toward a healthier planet.

In 2023, we added the Nature Cart to our suite of programs. The Nature Cart provides a new experience for guests to have meaningful engagement with nature, including deep dives into biodiversity assessments of water from Trout Pond, discussion of invasive species such as spotted lantern flies, regional species identification, frog calls, and camera trap images. The innovative programming format allowed opportunities for engagement with people of all ages and backgrounds, and we found guests had longer stay time at the Nature Cart than at most habitats. We hope that as a member, you found something new at the Nature Cart on nearly every repeat visit.

Pillar Four: Participate in Regional Conservation Efforts

Seneca Park Zoo has been actively involved in species survival in our own backyard for decades. Not only is our own region the place where we can make the most impact, but it’s essential that our community understand that conservation isn’t something that needs to happen just in Africa or Borneo or Nepal, but that our region faces significant challenges we can all be involved in addressing.

Regionally, our anchor species have been lake sturgeon, North American river otters, Eastern Massassagua Rattlesnakes, and monarch butterflies

Lake Sturgeon

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 bring an indigenous species back from the brink of extinction.

North American River Otter

More than twenty years ago, the Zoo participated in relocating North American river otters to the region, as they had been extirpated. Today, general Curator David Hamilton works with partners at RIT to study the presence and genetics of regional otters.

Eastern Massassauga Rattlesnake

The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Species Survival Plan (SSP) surveys wetlands looking for rattlesnakes. Each rattlesnake found is weighed, measured and a blood sample is collected.

Monarch Butterfly

Seneca Park Zoo has been conserving pollinator sites since 2002 with our Butterfly Beltway programs. Over 120 acres of native plants specifically chosen to feed and support monarchs and native wildlife have been planted.

We also are a part of the Urban Wildlife Information Network, documenting and reporting on the species sharing habitat with us in Monroe County. We work in partnership with governmental, nonprofit, and academic partners to achieve our work, and we often invite the public to be part of our efforts.

In recent years, the Zoo accelerated its coordination of Community Clean Ups, which now take place at least monthly from March through October. In 2023, nearly 700 volunteers joined us, contributing some 1800 hours of time to remove debris from our beaches, parks, and waterways. In the past five years, Community Clean Ups have removed over 13,000 pounds of pollution.

Pillar Five: Create meaningful partnerships for global conservation actions

The focus of this pillar is on the word “meaningful”. We hope you’ve noticed the many times the lead article in ZooNooz is written by a colleague from one of our conservation partners, sharing the work they can accomplish because of support from our members, guests, and donors. We consider our grantees our partners in achieving our shared mission.

Here are just a few examples:

Lemurs and Madagascar

Our partnership with Dr. Patricia Wright remains steadfast, supporting reforestation and key biodiversity assessments in Madagascar. As was reported in a recent ZooNooz, staff travels to Madagascar on a regular cadence in addition to our providing financial support.

Panamanian golden frogs

Our partnership with El Valle, in Panama, saw Curator John Adamski and Zookeeper Catina Wright travel earlier this year to assist with husbandry of Panamanian golden frogs as well as strategy for that species’ survival moving forward.

Polar Bears

Seneca Park Zoo, through its multi-year partnership with the Rochester Americans for Defend the Ice, has been able to significantly increase public awareness of the shrinking sea ice upon which polar bears depend. It’s also allowed us to increase our financial support for the maternal den monitoring research at Polar Bears International (PBI).

In 2023, we were also able to send Zookeeper Heidi Beifus to Churchill as part of PBI’s Arctic Ambassador program. In addition, we have been working closely with PBI and other zoos with polar bears to replicate the Defend the Ice program in other hockey markets.

"This is a small glimpse into our conservation work and it is at the heart of WHY we do what we do. We are so proud of the work we accomplish together, with your help."
- Pamela Reed Sanchez, President and CEO Seneca Park Zoo Society


Into the Lost Rainforest

This essay contributed by Tom Snyder, Seneca Park Zoo’s Director of Programming and Conservation Action, first appeared in our January 2024 edition of ZooNooz.

Growing up surrounded by nature I was fascinated by the wildlife in forests, and dreamed of exploring remote, uncharted territories. The thrill of discovering the unknown captivates me to this day, and I’m lucky to have a job that includes such ventures, always with an eye to conservation of biodiversity. The role zoos play in conservation, is significant. Zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums are at the forefront of global conservation efforts, with projects in 119 countries and $250 million invested in 2022. Seneca Park Zoo has played a leadership role in conservation efforts in several arenas, but perhaps most evident is our nearly thirty-year support of the work of Dr. Patricia Wright in Madagascar.

The Zoo has supported a wide range of important conservation projects over the years. Our support of the field station at Centre Valbio has helped employ hundreds of local people supporting thousands of researchers over the years. We have helped build forests, not only around Ranomafana, but started nurseries in other regions of the country. The complexity of balancing the needs of conservation with the realities of local communities and ecosystems is a constant learning process.

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) is a key partner for Seneca Park Zoo in many aspects of our conservation work, including bringing their expertise and technologies to the rainforests of Madagascar to use real world applications of remote sensing and imaging. During one research trip in 2019, we deployed audiomoths, sophisticated open-source audio recorders in the jungle near Centre Valbio, the field station in Ranomafana National Park. Analysis of the audio allows us to determine what is living where in the rainforest – insects and amphibians we cannot see but can be heard using these sensitive tools.

Dr. Wright immediately understood the value and implications of such recordings, and late last summer, she contacted us and asked for help deploying audiomoths in the “Lost Rainforest” of Ivohoribe, Madagascar. It was an opportunity to be part of the first large-scale research expeditions, and would include both the
Zoo and RIT.

The Lost Rainforest was “discovered” by Dr. Wright in 2016, and is a relatively small, isolated forest among grazing land, with much of the surround vegetation regularly set on fire for zebu (cattle) grazing. Her preliminary scouting trips had already provided evidence of species that biologically did not make sense occupying this space. For more context, this Smithsonian article provides a brilliant background (scan QR code to the right).
As I write this, I’ve only been back in town for a couple weeks, and there’s much to learn and share in the coming days. For now, here’s a bit of a travelogue of the journey to the Lost Rainforest.

Planning for this trip was complex given the remote location. Twenty hours in the air and twenty hours on the ground are required before a three-hour hike. Our team included Brenna DeAngelis, Seneca Park Zoo zookeeper, and Tony Vodacek, Professor, Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science at RIT, and his wife Anne. The full expedition team included specialists in various fields, from frogs to birds to bats, and even a film crew, documenting the expedition.

The arduous ground travel allows glimpses of diverse landscapes and the socioeconomic challenges of the country. The landscape is a mix of terraced rice patties interspersed with small communities of brick or mud houses, between some larger cities like Antsirabe and Fianarantsoa. Whether you live in a remote area or on the outskirts of a city, the roads are in terrible shape, with National Routes having crater-sized holes in them or areas with no pavement at all.

Day One in country: Our first day of travel, we logged more than 13 hours, arriving in Fianarantsoa for a quick overnight before another full day in the truck. Day two took us to the town of Ihosy, passing through areas with sparse populations of cattle grazers and fewer agricultural plots. With cattle grazers, come fires, burning land to get renewed growth for grazing. The magnitude of land turned into burned plots and active fires was significant. At times, driving with an open window, the heat of the fire would rush into the vehicle as you pass.

The last leg of the trip to the Ivohiboro forest is about three hours long. We can see clouds in the distance that appear to touch the ground, but we are driving through an open savannah with dried grasses contrasted with bushes loaded with bright purple flowers. The flowers are a sign that the rainy season is starting, and the clouds at ground level far off are a sign we may be in for some rain.

As we get closer to the ground clouds, we can see them roll off a set of trees in the distance. This is the Ivohiboro forest, which Pat refers to as The Lost Forest. After another hour, we pull up to the Ivohiboro ranger station, a plain white block building with a Madagascar flag whipping in the wind. It is also almost sunset so we cannot quite tell what tomorrow will bring, but it already looks demanding. The inside of the ranger station is sparse, with only the essentials; two bedrooms, a couch, a few chairs, a dining table, a serviceable kitchen, and plenty of pads to throw on the ground for people to sleep on. Our first night is on the floor of the ranger station.


Day Three: In the morning we awake to a group of Malagasy locals waiting outside the ranger station. They are our porters. Men, women, and young locals will carry our bags up to the North Camp. The forest is divided into two sections, north and south. The north is where we will be. There are two groups of researchers/scientists that are working in both areas.

Our packs are laden with gear and gadgets, including camping supplies and food. We have rain clothes, sleeping bags, animal ID books, batteries, and chargers. The locals carry them with ease up the mountain side as we lag, walking between a sea of grasses on a narrow and uneven foot paths. The trail cuts back and forth across the incline, slightly decreasing the harshness of the climb. Behind us, an incredible vista of mountains and the savanna we crossed to get here fill our views.

The climb continues up and down as we weave our way towards the clouds. As we crest the final hill we can see the North Camp in the distance, sitting on the edge of the rainforest. Tents are placed along the forest edge with three small rustic shelters housing tents and a communal space. As we arrive, we are greeted by colleagues that have been working hard over the last two weeks documenting the species found in the forest.

We meet a host of scientists from all over the world, including Malagasy staff workers from Centre Valbio. Shortly after, a film crew comes walking up the trail with Pat Wright slowly making her way out of the jungle. She pauses at the top of the stairs and exclaims to everyone, “We saw them!” She is talking about a group of ring-tailed lemurs. This is a lemur species normally only found in the spiny forests of Madagascar, now hundreds of miles away from where it is supposed to be, living in a wet rainforest environment where they should not be. What are they doing here? Did they run from the forest fires that have plagued this area, like many others in Madagascar?

Once we had made camp and set up our tents, we introduced ourselves to everyone and prepared for our first foray into the jungle. From camp, there is a set of steep stairs adjacent to the shelters that went down to the river. There, Centre Valbio cook staff and other Malagasy helpers camped. We had a makeshift shower, and a PVC tube directed water out of the river to assist us in getting drinking water.

With four of us on our team, three went to set up our audiomoths, and I headed out to begin recording 360º videos. We brought 19 audiomoths in total. These are open-source audio recording devices that can record low, regular, and high frequency audio with three batteries and an SD card. We have a very simple deployment where they are programmed, placed in a Ziploc bag, and attached to a tree or other structure. Depending on the programming, they can record for certain periods, frequencies, and turn on and off at certain times. We are looking to identify what is in the forest, so we are continuously recording the full spectrum of frequencies and about 17 GB of data for every 24 hours of recording from each device.


As I started recording, I watched the others head into forest. Almost immediately I heard the lemurs making alert calls. Within two minutes of entering the jungle they had seen a group of ring-tailed lemurs. After several minutes of recording from the knoll, I headed up to the same entrance the others used. I proceeded to place the camera at various locations, hitting record, then walking back out of frame so we would at least have some documentation of the sights and sounds of the southern part of the North Forest.

Day Four: The film crew wanted to get footage of Tony working in the field deploying/checking audiomoths, and I took the 360º camera and hiked up the side of the hill to interview Pat and see if we could get some good
360º video footage of the area. We slowly hiked up the footrail towards the ranger station. Where the trail crests we set up the camera. It provided a view across the vista with two small villages in two directions. Behind us,
the trees and the mist were rolling in over our view, as the sun beat down on us from above. At the same time, things back at camp were progressing. Researchers were assessing frogs for chytrid fungus, and gathering data on weights and measurements, while others were out collecting samples or conducting research directly in the forest.

Day Five: The next morning saw less activity, as the constant hiking up and down, low calorie food, and weather were taking a toll on everyone. Lunchtime came, and we spent the time taking notes, photographing animals, or writing in our journals. It was determined in the afternoon that a few of us would collect the audiomoths from the trails. Before long, up on the hill, that darkness set in.

This trip has us splitting our time between the north forest and continuing work at Ranomafana National Park once we leave Ivohiboro. The audiomoths record up to 48 KHz, capturing animal sounds undetectable to the human ear. The data collected with these deployments we will allow us and other researchers to classify the species recorded. However, the expedition is more than just data collection; it is about understanding and
interacting with the local environment and communities. It highlights the critical need for conservation in areas like Ivohiboro, and the urgency to support and expand such habitats.

Day Six: At sunrise, the team packed and staged our bags for our porters. Small groups of locals started arriving to bring the rest of the team down.
One group would carry our bags, and another would carry the 15 cases and bags the film crew had onsite. On the way out we were in a Land Cruiser with a much more comfortable seat, and better suspension. This, coupled with the great roads on the other side of Ihosy, meant we made it to Ambalavao with no problems. That night we had a great dinner and got to bed at a reasonable hour so we could get to Centre Valbio for the next three nights.

Days Seven, Eight, and Nine: Checking into Centre Valbio is always a reminder of how important Seneca Park Zoo is to all the research and conservation that has happened in this part of the world. A plaque with our name on it greets every visitor as a vital partner in the creation and ongoing work done there. I recall, on one of my prior visits, multiple staff telling me how they view Seneca Park Zoo as the most important support organization, outside of SUNY Stony Brook which owns and helps run the station.

Once there, we settle down and start backing up files and prepping the gear for the next few days. On this trip we are going to record at the One Cubic Foot site we surveyed in 2016 and audioscaped in 2019. Additionally, I will attempt to record with the 360º camera. We also headed to the entrance to the park and set up 3 audiomoths to see if we can record any mouse lemurs. These will record only at night and only higher frequencies. Over the next two days we will deploy additional audiomoths and capture more 360º
camera video.

On the third day at Centre Valbio, the audiomoths are collected and we pack for our next day’s trip to Antananarivo. We wake and travel to grab the three audiomoths by the entrance and head out on our trip north. We stop in Antsirabe on the way back for lunch and the only bathroom break on a twelve-hour drive. We arrive back in Antananarivo shortly after sundown.

Final Day: We head to the market to buy vanilla and some souvenirs, and have a productive lunch meeting with the Chief of Mission for the US embassy. We learn from her about potential impacts of the upcoming Malagasy national election and discuss the importance of conserving areas like Ivohiboro. We were able to explain the reasons why zoo-based conservation is important for this region, and how we can support sustainable projects in this region long term.

We make the return flight, leaving at 1:15am and heading to Paris, then Toronto, then in my truck for the final drive back to the US. When we return, I will focus on the important task of organizing and backing up our
data, analyzing it, and seeing what we can learn from it. We have hundreds of gigs of audio data, 20 or so 360º videos, 20 GoPro videos, notes, and countless other photo files to go through to start telling the story of Ivohiboro. The next several weeks will be devoted to organizing, indexing, and starting the analysis.

Analysis of the collected data will allow us to narrate the story of Ivohiboro. The insights gained from this trip will guide our future conservation efforts and deepen our understanding of the complex interplay between
ecosystems, wildlife, and human communities. This journey reinforces the importance of zoo-based conservation projects and the need for sustainable, community-inclusive approaches to preserving biodiversity. We invite others to join us in building healthy forests and communities in Madagascar, a task that goes beyond mere tree planting to fostering resilient ecosystems and supporting local populations.

How Do We Recycle Properly and Why is it Important?

How do we recycle properly and why is it important?

Recycling is an important, and practical step we can do in our day-to-day lives that helps protect our local environment, ecosystems, and promotes sustainability of resources. Here are some tips/information to use in your life:

  • Refuse, reduce, reuse, and then recycle.
    • You should refuse single use items to reduce how much waste you create and try to reuse items as much as possible before recycling or throwing them out.
  • Do not bag recycling!
    • Plastic bags are often non-recyclable. Additionally, they will get caught in the sorting machinery which damages equipment and causes delays.
  • Do not include items you are not sure about! When in doubt throw it out!
    • An entire batch of recycling can be contaminated and will need to be thrown out by mixing in non-recyclable items.
  • Be active in checking your local recycling programs!
    • The specifics of recycling rules will vary depending on your community programs. 
  • Rinse before recycling!
    • A single dirty item can contaminate an entire bin.
    • Cardboard and paper products can’t be recycled once they contact food or liquid.

ECOPARK: For Items you don’t know how to recycle or don’t know if they are able to be recycled check out the ecopark website. On their website you can type in any item and they will tell you how to properly dispose of it.

“The ecopark is a partnership between Monroe County and Waste Management of NY that provides county residents with a “one-stop drop-off” to dispose of or recycle difficult to manage materials. The ecopark accepts items like electronics, scrap metal, clothing, foam packaging, pharmaceuticals, rechargeable batteries, and more. The Monroe County ecopark website will help you find local businesses and services that are available to manage specific items. Whether you choose to use the ecopark itself or any of the listed convenient vendors, you will be helping the environment by keeping these materials from our community’s waters and landfills.” -Waste Management

Community Cleanup - Wayne Smith

National Veterinary Technician Week – Appreciation Post!

October 21, 2023

This week is National Vet Tech Week so we would like to say a big thank you to our veterinary technicians Robin and Tammy!

The vet techs at the Zoo are vital to the Animal Health Team. They prepare the equipment needed for medical procedures and examinations, and assist the veterinarian with all of the animals at the Zoo from the little rodents, birds, and reptiles to the elephants and giraffes.

Technicians run lab samples for diagnostic testing, monitor the hospital inventory and make sure we have the equipment and medications the animals need, and prepare medications for the animals. They also work with the zoo keepers to train our animals for voluntary procedures that help us monitor their health. The technicians help to collect blood from the elephants to maintain our elephant plasma bank. The stored plasma can be sent out to other zoos to help sick elephants. Anoki the polar bear and many of our big cats allow us to draw blood while they receive treats from a keeper. This way we can collect blood samples to monitor their health on a regular basis without having to sedate them and the animals calmly eat while we perform the blood draw.

Robin, our head vet tech, also keeps all our animal health paperwork in order. Keeping endangered animals and sending them to other zoos or receiving new animals requires health certificates, permits, and other paperwork. Robin helps to make sure that all this paperwork is kept up to date and communicates with state officials to determine what needs to be documented when animals move between zoos. 

– Dr. Chris McKinney DVM / Zoo Veterinarian

20 Scouts Making Tons of Progress in Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park

This guest essay contributed by Sarah Conley, International Elephant Foundation, first appeared in our September 2023 edition of ZooNooz.

The incredible photo above is the work of esteemed photojournalist Paul Hilton who created this powerful visual representation of the battle against poaching. Titled “Snare Mountain” this photo shows over 12 tons of confiscated snares and leg-hold traps—only a fraction of what Uganda Wildlife Authority Rangers and Scouts find, remove and ultimately destroy every year.

Moving arm-in-arm as a line, stepping methodically, unarmed Scouts traverse through the heart of poaching country in Uganda identifying, dismantling, and removing snares. Their boots protect from briars and bites, but are no match for wheel traps which can close with enough force to crush a human leg. These Scouts do important work helping protect endangered and threatened species in Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP) and building Uganda Wildlife Authority’s (UWA) capacity to protect wildlife by providing extra manpower to the ranger force. Together the UWA Rangers and Scouts collected over 12 tons of snares and leg-hold traps in 2022 alone making a noticeable positive impact in the recovery of wildlife.

How did these 20 Scouts get there? Each from a poaching family, they are a part of a vital program to reclaim Murchison Falls National Park from poachers and wildlife criminals. Once a thriving habitat known as Uganda’s Jewel of the Nile, Murchison Falls was decimated during decades of war starting in the 1970s followed by the Lord’s Resistance Army’s reign of terror in the 1990s. As the people suffered so did wildlife, and the natural heritage of a beautiful land was in peril. Once political stability returned, the Uganda Wildlife Authority, with support of conservation organizations like the Uganda Conservation Foundation (UCF) and the International Elephant Foundation (IEF), has been able to begin to take back the land from poachers.

Over the past 10 years IEF has supported the construction of 15 ranger stations, a veterinary facility, and the Joint Operating Command Center (JOCC) which coordinates all of Murchison’s ranger and security operations. Recovered snares are used in the construction to fortify the foundations of these ranger posts, but more importantly eliminating the possibility they can ever be used again. As a result, the population of highly endangered Rothschild giraffe is up from 400 to 2,000, the elephant population has increased from 500 to 16,000, and the park’s lion population is also recovering. These efforts and more are helping Uganda return to its pre-war glory of being one of the very best places for wildlife tourism in all of Africa.

Securing habitat with new ranger stations is not enough. Changing the hearts and minds of the people and breaking decadeslong practices of illegal harvesting and other wildlife crime to make ends meet is the ultimate goal. This is where the Scouts Program comes in; it is the next step in building a sustainable conservation ethic for communities surrounding Murchison Falls National Park. Poaching is often a family business, with techniques, preferred spots, and networks passed down from generation to generation. But the dangers and risks are real. As Uganda as a nation recovers, families want better for their sons and daughters. The Scout Program was developed by UCF to stop the cycle of poaching within families. In exchange for a family commitment to stop illegal activities, one of their children is provided an education and taught employable skills like construction, painting, arboriculture, and wildlife protection.

A major component of their apprenticeship is working on the construction of ranger stations. This gives the youths opportunities for one-on-one time with rangers and helps develop relationships and respect for authority and the environment. After completing the program, the young men and women are aided in securing employment, and not surprisingly many express interest in becoming rangers and enter training through the Scouts Program.

Scouts are trained in low-risk ranger activities such as snare removal and boat operation and accompany rangers on regular patrols, helping to increase the capacity and effectiveness of security operations. They work as a team, helping to overcome the critical shortage of rangers and making the recovery of wildlife populations a reality. Their work brings new hope and a brighter future to the habitat, the scouts themselves, and their families. They become leaders in their communities and trusted Park ambassadors. Not surprisingly, there are many young adults and families eager to join this program.


As important as this program is to the individual youth and their families, it is equally critical to Uganda Wildlife Authority’s mandate to secure and protect the wildlife of Murchison Falls National Park. The global shutdown in response to COVID-19 changed everything. Travel stopped and with it so did tourism which is the primary source of income for the government as well as a large percentage of the population. Park entrance fees fund rangers and patrols, many businesses from the travel to food and beverage industries to hospitality to city and country markets are reliant on tourist spending, and these businesses employ thousands of people in the cities as well as surrounding national parks. Out of work and looking for a way to feed their families, many people returned to family farms and hunting for bushmeat. Bushmeat is a generic term for meat from wildlife species hunted for human consumption which is illegal in national parks and designated areas throughout Africa and Asia. Unfortunately, bushmeat is an important source of protein and a cash-earning product in poor, rural communities.

As the economic effects of the pandemic put more pressure on habitats, it also put pressure on wildlife protection teams. Due to COVID-19, rangers were not hired to replace those who retired or otherwise left the force. That coupled with a ranger force already too small to fulfill the increased need to staff ranger stations as they were built throughout the park left large areas without surveillance simply due to a lack of manpower. Therefore, the scouts were a blessing as they were trained in critical routine roles which allowed rangers to move into the field for security patrols.

IEF’s commitment to the recovery of elephants, lions, giraffe, and more continues today. We are supporting the expansion of the Scouts Program to continue to bolster and increase the capacity of the existing rangers. We are proud to report that just when conservation work was needed most during the pandemic and nearly all of the avenues for support for rangers dried up, IEF not only fulfilled our commitment but in fact provided additional funds. It is due to our conservation partners like Seneca Park Zoo that we continue to fund the construction of rangers stations while supporting the brave men and women who are on the frontlines of protecting Murchison Falls National Park. The support of partners like the Seneca Park Zoo is what makes the difference between maintaining the conservation gains of the past decade and backsliding resulting in losing control to poachers and countless animals and habitat. Each ranger station constructed, each patrol, each snare the Rangers and Scouts remove holds Uganda’s past and signals her future where wildlife and people thrive together.

The Journey of Seneca Park Zoo’s Panamanian Golden Froglets

Last year our adult Panamanian golden frogs laid a clutch of eggs, which successfully metamorphosed into healthy frogs.  Seneca Park Zoo is proud to share this amazing success, since this species is now extinct in nature.  Our efforts to conserve Panamanian golden frogs include field work in Panama, along with the successful raising of these froglets.  Here was their journey!

By Zoo Keepers Catina Wright & Rhonda McDonald 

April 15th 2022 –  Female Panamanian golden frog laid eggs in strings in the water.  Keepers collected them and placed them in a behind the scenes observation tank for monitoring. Eggs began hatching a week later. 

Female adult Panamanian golden frog
Panamanian golden frog eggs
Panamanian golden frog eggs in water - April 15 2022
Panamanian golden frog eggs

July 14th 2022 –  Tadpoles grew in size and about 3 months later began to sprout hind legs.  Picture shows left tadpole with hind legs starting to grow. They were living fully in water and eating algae wafers, as well as algae off of rocks. (right)

July 31st 2022 –  The tadpoles formed into froglets with all 4 legs and color markings beginning to show. They were living mainly in water, sometimes venturing out on land.  Still eating algae. 

August 6th 2022 –  The froglets completely absorbed their tails, and had full markings.  They were living fully on land and eating very tiny invertebrates called springtails.  As they grew they were able to eat pinhead crickets and eventually move to fruit flies and small crickets. 

August 14th 2023 –  One year after forming into froglets, the young adult frogs are still behind the scenes but are doing great and still growing, at about ¾ the size of an adult. 

This is an important milestone for Seneca Park Zoo, and we are proud to contribute to bolstering the Panamanian golden frog population in AZA zoos.

Is It a Frog or a Toad?

Frogs and toads are often difficult to tell apart. If you aren’t sure what differentiates them, you can easily find out what they are by their names. Right? Wrong! Oftentimes species names do not represent their true classification. For example, Panamanian golden frogs are actually toads, and fire bellied toads are actually frogs! Confused? Here are some basic characteristics to help you out:
Toads tend to have dry and warty skin, while frogs tend to have smooth and slimy skin. However, this isn’t always true, and should not be used as the main way to tell them apart!
Toads lay their eggs in strings along waterways, while frogs lay their eggs in clumps in waterways.
Toads have short hind legs for hopping and walking, while frogs have long hind legs for leaping and swimming.
Toads have eyes that are lower on their face, while frogs have eyes on the tops of their heads in order to see above water while their bodies are submerged.
Toads live on dry land as adults, while frogs tend to live in or by water as adults.

Think you have enough info to figure it out? Next time you’re at the Zoo, check out the amphibians and see if you can spot the differences!

– Zoo Keeper Rhonda McDonald


Animal Training Workshop Experience With Natural Encounters Inc.

As the way we work with animals in conservation care changes, the use of animal training is becoming more prevalent.  Animals now can participate in their own health care and have their minds and bodies enriched through positive reinforcement training.  However, having a knowledge base and understanding of how to go about training is something one would need in order to make these training sessions successful.  One company that has that knowledge base is Natural Encounters Inc. (NEI)  
Natural Encounters Inc. was established in 1976 by Steve Martin.  He began by creating the first bird show at the San Diego Zoo.  Then went on to provide free-flight bird shows in zoos around the world.  Their mission is to engage, inspire and empower their audiences to engage in conservation.  Additionally, their staff will travel to zoos around the world as animal training consultants to assist animal care professionals with training skills in general or for working with a specific species.  With their extensive knowledge of animal training, they hold various animal training workshops for animal professionals at their home ranch in Central Florida. 

I was lucky enough to attend an animal training workshop hosted by NEI this past January.  NEI is home to over 550 birds of 70 different species at their ranch.  In the workshop we not only received information in a lecture-based setting, but were able to take what we learned and apply it to the birds at their facility.  We were placed into groups with a team lead who has had many years training animals.  We were also assigned a group of macaws and a raven to be able to train with throughout the week. We would spend each morning with a lecture, followed by a training demonstration, then time to train with our birds.  Then we would have a wonderful catered lunch and do the same in the afternoon.  

I went into the workshop with previous education and practice with positive reinforcement training from my time at school.  However, the way that they explained and put techniques and processes into perspective really changed the way I thought of how I was training the animals I work with.  Having the ability to take what we had learned and immediately apply it to the birds we were working with was crucial for everything to click.  The added benefit was having the team lead and your team with you there every step of the way.  Most times you don’t necessarily have the chance to have someone watch and give advice while you are training. This opportunity allowed you to have that immediate feedback, change what you were doing, and see that result of the feedback.  Our whole group joked that we wished we could all go to work with each other to help and give advice during our training sessions!    

Since attending the workshop, I have worked with our African Grey Parrot, Minnow on a nail trim behavior, putting his wings up and beak holds.  The ability to attend this workshop was very beneficial to my own knowledge and changing the way I work with the Zoos ambassador animals.  


– Program Coordinator & Zoo Naturalist Jess Hays


Veterinary Care for the Birds

Working with birds is fun, but does have challenges as well! Here at the Zoo we have many different birds in our care. In our education building, which is not open to the public, we have psittacine birds (parrots). These birds partake in education programs and the Zoomobile. We have raptors (birds of prey), which includes the snowy owls and red-tailed hawk. The Savanna Aviary contains spotted dikkops (a shore bird), sandhill cranes, and multiple species of passerines (perching birds/song birds). Of course, we also have African penguins in the Rocky Coast area too!

Birds have many unique adaptations. They all have feathers which serve as insulation, aid in flight (or swimming for the penguins), and can serve as signals to other birds. Birds go through molt, which is when they lose old feathers and grow new ones. Some birds do this gradually, but some birds molt all their feathers at once. African penguins are a species that molts all at once so you may see some of them looking quite bald like little vultures. These birds are not sick, they are just molting their feathers! When new feathers first grow in, they are connected to blood vessels and are called a “blood feather.” Once the feather is fully grown, it loses the blood supply. However, if a feather breaks while it still has a blood supply it can bleed a large amount. When this occurs, we need to remove the feather to stop the bleeding. This can happen to pet birds too and is one of the most common pet bird emergencies.


Most birds also have hollow bones to reduce their weight for flight. Penguins and other flightless birds are an exception to this and have solid bones like us. Birds do not have a diaphragm, the muscle that separates the chest and abdomen in mammals. They do have air sacs which help to increase airflow through the respiratory system and keep a higher oxygen flow into the body.

It is important for our safety and the safety of the birds to be aware of how a bird might act when we handle them for veterinary procedures. For long procedures, we will anesthetize the birds. This reduces the risk of them injuring us and reduces that risk that they injure themselves trying to escape. Most birds first instinct when we restrain them for an exam, nail trim, or to draw blood is to flap their wings to try to get away. This can cause injury to the wings so we cover their wings with a light towel. Parrots might try to bite while raptors will try to use their talons for defense. 

All of the birds that go outside receive a vaccine for West Nile Virus. This virus is spread by mosquitos and can cause neurological disease in many different animal species. Penguins are also prone to another mosquito borne disease called avian malaria. This is a parasite that only infects birds. This disease was very rare in the northern US, but is becoming more common because climate change is leading to longer mosquito seasons and different species of mosquitos moving further north. To protect them, the penguins receive a preventative medication during mosquito season.

The highly efficient respiratory tracts of birds make them prone to respiratory infections. One that has been in the news lately is avian influenza. The Zoo has a plan in place to help protect our birds from this virus. This plan was developed through discussions with veterinary teams at other zoos and the NY state veterinarian. They can also get a fungal infection called Aspergillosis. This is a fungus that exists in the soil and can infect birds when they are stressed or ill with another disease.

Birds hide signs of illness very well because in the wild, if they show signs of weakness, they become a target for predators. Because of this adaptation, we regularly evaluate all of our birds.  They receive an overall annual checkup and the keepers give daily reports on anything abnormal so that we know if a bird needs additional exams or tests such as blood work or x-rays. The bird’s weights are also monitored.  If a bird does need any tests performed, we bring them to the Animal Hospital. X-rays allow us to not only see the bones but also the outline of the heart, liver, and other internal organs. Some diseases will cause enlargement of organs which we can see on the x-rays. The blood allows us to check the red and white blood cells along with enzymes that show liver and kidney health, protein levels, and electrolytes. 

Stop by and visit with the man species of birds in our care this weekend and all throughout the year! 

– Dr. Chris McKinney (DVM / Zoo Veterinarian) 

Madagascar: One Seedling at a Time

This article first ran in our ZooNooz July 2023 edition.

After three days of travel, upon arriving in Madagascar, there is only one leg of the trip left before reaching Centre ValBio, Seneca Park Zoo’s partner of three decades. Centre ValBio is situated in Ranomafana National Park, a biodiversity hotspot, and home to countless creatures, including some of Madagascar’s most famous residents, lemurs.

“I like to move it, move it,” friends and family sing to us before we leave—a reference to the singing lemur in the animated Madagascar movie. We are asked to take pictures, and to bring some home in our suitcases.

We are on our way to the land of lemurs. Lemurs are found only here in Madagascar, this very large island hundreds of miles off the coast of Africa, and one of the most unique and biodiverse ecosystems in the world. When conservationists talk about species that are particularly popular, and are considered cute or cuddly, or otherwise draw our collective attention, they call these species “charismatic.” By this definition, lemurs are some of the most charismatic creatures on the planet. They are also some of the most critically endangered, with over 95% of lemur species threatened with extinction in the next 20 years.

We are hoping to see some lemurs, of course, but we are really here to meet the people who are working to protect them and the land they call home.

But before we arrive there is the 12-hour drive, on roads with potholes the size of vehicles. It used to be nine hours, our Malagasy driver and guide David explains to us, but it is much longer now because the roads are so bad; they haven’t been repaired in years. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. Minimum wage is $55 per month, David tells us, yet many people don’t even make that.

As we drive away from the city and into the rural areas, the poverty becomes clear. Children and adults wait at the roadsides for the opportunity to sell something to passing cars. Clothes are torn, feet are bare.


Much of the landscape is bare, too. Trees have been cut or burned down, and hillsides have been torn into or terraced, leaving the soil to seep or wash away, where it runs into rivers, and eventually out to sea. The water in rivers and rice paddies looks like chocolate milk.

Madagascar has lost nearly half of its forests over the past 60 years, much of it through clear cutting, and slash and burn methods to use ash for fertilizers. The soil is red here, and erosion is so bad that satellite photos show Madagascar “bleeding” into the ocean.

As the trip goes on, the day turns cloudy, then rainy and dark, and poverty reveals itself at the roadsides, it is hard not to feel a sense of hopelessness, even despair.

We arrive in the dark. As we get closer to our destination, the roads start to improve, but it takes us awhile to notice; it’s funny how often we notice when things get bad, but fail to recognize right away when they improve gradually.

We wake up in a world entirely different than the one we’d driven through, with the rainforest all around us. From here, it is only a short walk to the Centre ValBio field station.

Centre ValBio (CVB) was founded by Dr. Patricia Wright, a world-renowned researcher and conservationist—and recipient of the Zoo’s Conservation Warrior award in 2022. Dr. Wright came to Madagascar to research lemurs in the 1980’s, and with the help of local guides discovered the golden bamboo lemur in 1986.

Dr. Wright soon set out to protect lemurs, recognizing that to do so you must protect their habitat: the rapidly declining forest. She worked with the Madagascar government to protect 100,000 acres of rainforest and lemur habitat, which in 1991 was established as Ranomafana National Park (RNP). CVB, located within RNP, is widely recognized as a standard-bearer for tropical research stations, leading research and conservation efforts, and also initiatives in community health, education, and sustainable livelihoods.

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) partners with the Seneca Park Zoo Society (SPZS) to support CVB’s work in biodiversity research, habitat restoration, reforestation, and restoration ecology. A goal of this visit is to learn more about the work happening at CVB, and to identify opportunities for RIT to support the work through faculty and student research projects. But mostly, we will find, we are here to learn.

We arrive at CVB and meet with Biodiversity Specialist Mahandry Hugues Andrianarisoa. Mahandry, who is Malagasy—like most of the staff here. Mahandy made his way to working with CVB through SPZS, first in 2016 when SPZS sponsored Mahandry while he was pursuing his master’s degree, and he became part of the One Cubic Foot project to document, through art and science, the region’s biodiversity. In his 2017 visit to the United States, sponsored by SPZS, he learnd DNA barcode analysis at the Smithsonian Institute and also met with Dr. Wright in her office at SUNY Stony Brook. Dr. Wright invited him to become part of the reforestation work at CVB. Within two months on the job Mahandry had planted 3,000 trees. Shortly before our arrival in Madagascar, he had planted 10,000 trees in Kiranomena, the community where he grew up.

Mahandry greets us wearing a Seneca Park Zoo jacket, a wool cap, and a smile that warms and lights the room. He reviews the work CVB’s doing to understand and document biodiversity in the area—inventories on lemurs,
but also reptiles, birds, insects, small mammals, plants. The inventories are updated annually to see changes over time.
A unique aspect of their work, he explains, is that they are seeking to understand how biodiversity thrives in an agroforestry system. Agroforestry integrates forests and agriculture—meaning the cultivation and harvest of
crops are incorporated with, rather than in competition with, the forest and species that live there.
We are given a tour of CVB’s facilities and labs, where we learn about some of their research efforts, and meet Emile Rajeriarison. Emile leads insect collection activities— part of CVB’s mission to understand ecosystem dynamics and genomics in the rainforest. He smiles as he shows us specimens, and explains how they are learning how each insect functions in the ecosystem, with most serving as pollinators. With his deep knowledge of the forest, Emile was asked to serve as Dr. Wright’s guide during her first field expeditions in the area, and they ultimately discovered the golden bamboo lemur together in 1986; they have worked together ever since.
Emile recalls when Dr. Wright first began to pursue protecting the forest; Emile agreed it was needed, as it pained him to see the forest destroyed. But he wondered how locals could make a living; people here, in extreme poverty, use the forest for everything from fuel to fertilizer to food.
So, to protect and care for the lemurs, you have to protect and care for the forest. And to protect and care for the forest, you have to care for the people, and allow them to care for themselves and each other. This is what
is called a One Health approach—recognizing that nature and people are interconnected, and the health of one depends on the health of the other.
Dr. Wright has a vision of reforesting the entire area between RNP and the sea—with an ultimate goal of protecting 600,000 acres. But much of the land is privately owned, by many individuals with relatively small
plots of land. This is not a case of greedy companies trying to make a killing by killing off the trees; rather it is people trying to make a living, to have enough to eat and feed their families. This is where agroforestry and
restoration ecology—or agroecology—come in.
The next day we meet with Nicolas Rasolonjatovo, CVB’s Head of Reforestation, who takes us to a small agroforestry site, about three years in the process.
He explains how high-value crops such as vanilla and white pepper are integrated into the forest. As part of the program, when farmers pick up seedlings for revenue-generating crops, they are given seedlings of endemic
trees for free. The trees provide necessary shade for the crops, while also improving the health of the soil, and cleaning the water.
Several income (and food) generating activities can be combined in one plot of land—in the small area where we stand, we see pineapples, beekeeping, and vanilla amidst the young trees. As part of the agroforestry programs, people learn how to add value to and harvest crops to ensure sustainable incomes.

It’s funny how we have money to spend to go to Mars, but not to heal the planet. We are all connected. We need to find better ways to use what we have on the ground. - Mahandry Hughes Andrianarisoa

Madagascar article pic

Later, Nicolas takes us to a larger and more established site, owned by a woman named Félicité. Félicité’s father owned the land before her, and had cleared it to feed his family; a short-term solution for many farmers in the area. Félicité has embraced agroforestry as a more sustainable solution for both livelihoods and the health of the land. She has been trained on fermenting vanilla—fermented vanilla gets two to three times the price on the market. She has a nursery with seedlings; she grows vanilla and teaches others how to grow, harvest and pollinate it. Her land has been transformed, and she is a leader in her community.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Nicolas tells us of additional partners they’re working with to reforest and regenerate the area: 500,000 seedlings through TerraMatch; 300,000 through, a free, non-profit search engine that plants trees. He points to a nearby mountain and explains their strategy of planting endemic trees at the top of mountains, which establishes soil and nutrients, nourishing farmers’ soil below.

Before we part ways, Nicolas shares that this is his dream, to help people and teach them how to have healthy soil. It’s funny, he says, how we have money to spend to go to Mars, but not to heal the planet we live on. “We are all connected,” he says. “We need to find better ways to use what we have on the ground.”

On the last day of our visit, we wake up early to have breakfast before starting on the long road back home. As we drink coffee in the dining area, we look up to see Mahandry walking in. It is Saturday, his day off, and not yet 7 am. He joins us at our table, sleepy-eyed but smiling, bearing gifts of cinnamon and white pepper. I wanted to say goodbye, he says.

As he sits with us, drinking warm milk instead of coffee, we have a chance to ask him more about his work, and what brought him to CVB.

While he was working on the One Cubic Foot project, in Washington, D.C., he says, “I saw all of the trees, and I wanted to have as many trees where I live.”

Mahandry shared his dream to reforest his country with Tom Snyder, SPZS Director of Programming and Conservation Action. Tom worked with Mahandry to learn about his vision, and helped connect him with CVB’s reforestation work.

This is a nice story, but something is confusing. Looking around at the rainforest, one can’t help but wonder why Mahandry would see D.C. and want to have more trees at his home.

“But you have so many trees here,” we say. Mahandry laughs. “Oh,” he says, “this isn’t my home. Here, let me show you.”

He opens a map on his phone, zooming in on Kiranomena, the area where he’d recently planted 10,000 seedlings. The whole area is mint green, the color digital maps use to show parks and forests.

“But that green shouldn’t be there,” he says. “There aren’t any trees.”

It’s funny, if you think about it, how much we trust these maps to tell us about the state of the world, as though they are reality.

But then again, sometimes maps show us where we are, and sometimes they show us where we’re going.

Written by Erin H. Green, M.S. (Seneca Park Zoo Society Member, Research Analyst and Writer) 

– Edited by James Myers, PhD. (Associate Provost of International Education at Rochester Institute of Technology)