Keeper Connection: Primates, the Pet Trade, and Social Media

August 28, 2021

Have you ever been scrolling on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok and watched a video of a monkey, ape, or lemur? Maybe they’re wearing a dress, holding their arms up being “tickled”, or being held by someone posing for a photo. These videos can be tempting to share with your friends and family. So much content on social media is centered on animals interacting with the world and people, sharing it seems like a harmless way to bring positivity to someone’s feed. Unfortunately, the truth behind many of these videos is that it fuels the live primate pet trade, threatens wild populations, promotes poor primate welfare, and distorts viewers perspectives on zoos and the differences between private ownership of primates and housing primate species in zoos to support and assist in wild conservation efforts.So, what is the live primate pet trade? The primate pet trade is the transaction of live primates (monkeys, ape, and prosimians) into the care of humans outside of accredited zoos or sanctuaries (Norconk et al., 2019). Some of these primates will have come from facilities that intentionally breed them for the purpose of selling them as a pet, while others will have been taken directly from the wild by traffickers and then sold (Norconk et al., 2019). These primates will all be taken from their mothers and sold at young ages before they have reached full growth and maturity (Noconk et al., 2019).

It was estimated in 2011 that around tens to potentially hundreds of thousands of wild individual live primates are traded a year; in 2017 the number was estimated to be around 450,000 live primates (Nijman et al., 2011; Estrada et al., 2017). In 2011, the United States was the single largest importer of live primates and had been since 2009 (Nijman et al., 2011; Norconk et al., 2019). It goes without saying that these numbers present a major concern for primate populations and their conservation.

Primates are imperative to the health of the ecosystems they inhabit. With continually decreasing population numbers, and approximately 60% of primate species threatened with extinction, primates will no longer be able to support the functions necessary for an ecosystem to thrive (Estrada et al., 2017). Primates are responsible for a significant amount of seed dispersal and pollination throughout forests (Estrada et al., 2017). Since many primates are frugivorous (eat fruits), they are able to disperse fruit seeds throughout long distances when travelling, assisting in forest regeneration (Chapman et al., 2013). In addition to forest regeneration, primates disperse seeds that grow plants connected to economic growth, cultural importance, and food security in communities within primate habitats (Estrada et al., 2017).While the impacts removing primates from the wild has on ecosystems and local peoples will have a multitude of consequences, it is important to discuss how the live primate pet trade impacts the individual’s health and welfare once in the hands of its “owner”. The majority of primate species are social animals and require the presence of conspecifics to engage in natural behaviors such as grooming, playing, breeding, and various other species-specific behaviors. When taken out of these social environments and placed within human care (non-zoo or sanctuary) in an inappropriate environment such as a house, the individuals may begin to develop stereotypic or abnormal behaviors. Stereotypic behaviors are defined as “repetitive behaviors caused by central nervous system dysfunction, frustration, or repeated attempts to cope” (Mason et al., 2007). These behaviors can be functionless movements (pacing, bouncing, excessive somersaulting), over grooming oneself, or forms of self-harm that may include picking or biting at their skin forming a wound (Coleman & Maier, 2010; Lutz, 2014).

Keeping primates as pets in general, as well as in an inappropriate environment with no social groups, will have detrimental effects on the primate’s mental and physical welfare. Many primates who were previously kept as pets face lifelong struggles with harmful stereotypic behaviors and may have trouble fitting in with other primates since they were never able to learn how to be a primate when living alone as a pet. Unlike what most videos or pictures of pet primates will show, primates are incredibly dangerous animals and pose a serious risk to humans once they reach full growth and maturity. Below is a picture of Seneca Park Zoo’s dominant male Olive Baboon, Mansino, showing off his canines.Social media is becoming an increasing threat to primate populations worldwide, with certain species being more popular and appealing to viewers. As of 2020, YouTube had two billion users throughout the world, making it the most popular and impactful social media platform to exist (Moloney et al., 2021). With this many users, and the ability to share YouTube content on other social media platforms, these videos promote the popularity of having a primate as a pet and thus increases the demand for the trade of live primates and decreasing their numbers in the wild.

While there have been numerous action plans implemented to combat this issue that involve local peoples within primate habitat countries, there are a variety of ways that our visitors here at Seneca Park Zoo can help decrease the number of primates imported into the United States for pets and entertainment.

Tips for sharing videos or pictures of primates on social media:

  • Was the video or picture posted by an accredited zoo? If yes, it is ok to share it! The primate is in an appropriate environment and social group and is being taken care of by professionals.
  • Is the primate sitting on someone’s shoulder wearing clothes or doing tasks throughout the house? If yes, do not share it! This is most likely a primate being kept as a pet. The primate is in an inappropriate environment behaving in a way it wouldn’t normally behave in a social group in the wild or at a zoo.
  • Is the primate in the wild? If yes, it is ok to share it! Sharing videos or pictures of primates in the wild is encouraged, as it shows people what primate social groups look like as well as the type of habitats the species lives in.

There may be some videos or images that could cause confusion when deciding if it should be shared or not. These videos or images may show a veterinarian or wildlife researcher in close contact with a primate. If these videos or images are connected to a zoo or a research/conservation group, then it is ok to share them. Veterinarians will have to be in close contact with a primate for exams or if an injury occurs. Wildlife researchers may have to be in close contact in order to collect samples (blood, fecal, urine, etc.) or even fit the primate with a GPS collar to assist in their research. Below are some examples:You may also come across videos or pictures of young primates (mainly orangutans and chimps) being held by care takers or wheeled around in wheelbarrows. The majority of these videos or pictures are taken at primate rehabilitation centers. As long as these videos or pictures are coming from a center, it is ok to share it! These centers rehabilitate primates that have lost their mothers due mainly from forest destruction and the pet trade. Sharing this content can help raise awareness about the dangers primates face in the wild and the work that is put into rehabilitating the primates and eventually re-releasing them into the wild. Below are examples:One last action our guests can take is to educate your friends and family about the primate pet trade! Sharing this information is perhaps one of the most important ways to help primates. Help us at Seneca Park Zoo spread awareness about the threat the primate pet trade poses to primate conservation and primate welfare.

Thank you for your support and Happy Primate Weekend!

– Clare Belden, Baboon KeeperDonate References:

Estrada, A., Garber, P.A., Rylands, A.B., Roos, C., Fernandez-Duque, E., Di Fiore, A., Nekaris, K.A.I., Nijman, V., Heymann, E.W., Lamber, J.E., Rovero, F., Barelli, C., Setchell, J.M., Gillespie, T.R., Mittermeier, R.A., Arregoitia, L.V., de Guinea, M., Gouveia, S., Dobrovolski, R., Shanee, S., Shanee, N., Boyle, S.A., Fuentes, A., MacKinnon, K.C., Amato, K.R., Meyer, A.L.S., Wich, S., Sussman, R.W., Pan, R., Kone, I., Li, B. (2017). Impending extinction crisis of the world’s primates: Why primates matter. Science Advances, 3: e1600946

Chapman, C.A., Bonnell, T.R., Gogarten, J.F., Lambert, J.E., Omeja, P.A., Twinomugisha, D., Wasserman, M.D., Rothman, J.M. (2013). Are primates ecosystem engineers? International Journal of Primatology, 34:1-14

Coleman, K., Maier, A. (2010). The use of positive reinforcement training to reduce stereotypic behavior in rhesus macaques. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 124(3-4): 142-148

Lutz, C.K. (2014). Stereotypic behavior in nonhuman primates as a model for the human condition. Institute for Laboratory Animal Research Journal, 55(2)

Mason, G., Clubb, R., Latham, N., Vickery, S. (2007). Why and how should we use environmental enrichment to tackle stereotypic behaviour? Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 102:163-188

Moloney, G.K., Tuke, J., Dal Grande, E., Nielsen, T., Chaber, AL. (2021). Is YouTube promoting the exotic pet trade? Analysis of the global perception of popular YouTube videos featuring threatened exotic animals. PLoS ONE, 16(4): e0235451

Nijman, V., Nekaris, K.A.I., Donati, G., Bruford, M., Fa, J. (2011). Primate Conservation: measuring and mitigating trade in primates. Endangered Species Research, 13: 159-161

Norconk, M.A., Atsalis, S., Tully, G., Santillan, A.M., Waters, S., Knott, C.D., Ross, S.R., Shanee, S. (2019). Reducing the primate pet trade: Actions for primatologists. International Journal of Primatology, 82: e23079

Supporting Primate Conservation with IAR

August 28, 2021

Led by Dr. Karmele Sanchez, International Animal Rescue-Indonesia (IAR) supports orangutan conservation by addressing several challenges the animals face in the wild. In 2013, IAR established the first rescue and rehabilitation center for orangutans in the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan, home to approximately 8,000 Bornean orangutans. The center serves as a hub for IAR’s rescue, rehabilitation, and reintroduction program.Poaching for the illegal pet trade remains a critical threat to orangutans, and IAR’s Orangutan Protection Unit works with the local government to rescue orangutans from these situations. Often, these animals were orphaned, and need significant rehabilitation and education before they can be reintroduced. IAR provides state of the art veterinary care, and IAR’s staff spends years teaching orangutans the skills they need to survive in the wild. Orangutans go from pre-school to baby school to forest school and finally to a pre-release island that mimics the wild forest into which the orangutans will eventually be released. Following extensive surveys to ensure the release site is appropriate, IAR releases orangutans and monitors them to ensure their long-term survival.

IAR also conducts community outreach and education since the success of orangutan conservation efforts depends on involvement and investment in local communities. IAR conducts conservation camps, after-school programs, and a religious education project to engage local community members, especially children, and to foster their interest in conservation and environmental issues.

– Assistant Zoo Director – Animal Care and ConservationDonate

* Banner photo is an orangutan found in a coconut farm is relocated to Gunung Palung National Park.

Visitor Studies: My Summer at the Seneca Park Zoo

August 23, 2021

What drew me to an internship at Seneca Park Zoo was the potential for many aspects of interest to collide within an academic setting. In my professional life, I am a museums geek primarily studying archives. In my personal life, I live a lifestyle in the pursuit of sustainable vegan environmentalism. The ability to incorporate essential aspects of identity in the same space as the work I am so passionate about has always been a goal in my museum studies. That being said, it had seemed unachievable until the opportunity from the Seneca Park Zoo presented itself in my line of internships.

The Seneca Park Zoo is one of the institutions at the forefront of conservation efforts in upstate New York. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Zoo practices large scale conservation not only at the Zoo itself, but into the community as well. Their history in Rochester runs deep into the city’s roots, and never has their conservation message been more necessary. The chance to be up close in the process of such an active source of local conservation was exciting and, of course, daunting.My primary focus in my internships this far into my career has varied from archives to digital communication and many things in between. My professional journey going into my senior year has been primarily research focused, with little chance to work with museum patrons. The chance to work in visitor studies alongside Kelly Ulrich this summer expanded my understanding of the network necessary to accomplish the experience that institutions like zoos and museums provide every day. Not only that, but they make it look easy.

Kelly Ulrich was an absolute powerhouse of a mentor to follow these past few months. She heads the Education Department and oversees visitor studies, as the Director of Education, and coordinates other details at the Zoo that I hadn’t even thought of. Who would have thought so much analysis and understanding goes into maintaining the Zoo’s welcoming and educational environment, for children and adults alike. My primary assignment was sorting guest surveys and coding them to better understand what our Zoo is doing right and how we can expand our practices to make the Zoo better for everyone who enters its gates. No comment went unnoticed. Every opinion genuinely fuels the Seneca Park Zoo to push for better. I also researched conservation outreach and survey methods in order to create a survey aimed at gauging the relationship between conservation and connection with animals.The Education Department of the Seneca Park Zoo created the most amazing atmosphere for me to work in. Constantly encouraging me to be curious, go deeper into research, and also pursue paths of further understanding whenever possible. Going into this internship, I honestly had no idea what to expect, coming from an archival background. Two months later, I feel a deeper understanding and appreciation for all the energy and heart that goes on behind the scenes of educational institutions. From reading guest comments, I realized zoos have so much opportunity to impact people from just one visit. Stories of animal connections, positive staff interactions, and even just a clean, safe environment in such an unsettling time cropped up countless times in the visitor studies research. In a way, the guest experience comments really solidified my passion for my profession in the world of museums. Not only this but being submerged in a space dedicated to the education of environmental welfare edified my spirit for environmental advocacy.

I am incredibly appreciative for all the experience and connection I gained from this position and cannot be more thankful for the drive it has given me as I continue to work in the world of museology and conservation in both my professional and personal endeavors.

– Anna Kneeland (Zoo Intern, Nazareth ’22)

* Banner photo by Kenneth Tryon

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 or call 585-226-5366.

Supporting Lion Conservation with Lion Landscapes

July 31, 2021

Lions have disappeared from over 90% of their historic range. It is estimated that there are only around 20,000 wild lions left in Africa, nearly 50% fewer than 20 years ago and 90% fewer than a century ago. Of those 20,000, almost half live in non-protected rangelands shared with humans. Lions can survive outside fenced areas within pastoral regions if communities gain benefits from wildlife. If we don’t help protect the landscapes where lions live, it won’t be long before they become extinct in nature.

Lion and other large carnivores share the same key threats, including:

• Habitat destruction and fragmentation
• Loss of wild prey
• Persecution in retaliation for killing livestock
• Illegal hunting and poachingLion Landscapes works with local communities and conservation partners in Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia to ensure that ecosystems support people, lions, and their prey for future generations. Their vision is a world where people and viable lion populations can coexist and thrive.
A lion landscape is a landscape that encompasses viable populations of large carnivores, tolerant people and livestock, abundant wild prey and a healthy habitat. Lion Landscapes’ conservation and research efforts focus on how local communities, their livestock and lions can co-exist. This organization does this in 3 main ways:

• Building Partnerships – using available resources for conservation and collaborating between key stakeholders to more efficiently achieve shared conservation goals.
• Science and Data – providing science based support to large carnivore conservation and allocating resources based on data.
• Innovation – creating innovative solutions with financial and ecological sustainability in mind.Lion Rangers is a key component of Lion Landscapes activities in Africa. The Rangers are composed of local people who understand the communities and the culture. They monitor lion populations, provide advice on protecting livestock from carnivores, and mitigate human-lion conflicts through this monitoring and mentoring.

Seneca Park Zoo chooses to support the conservation efforts of Lion Landscapes as part of the African Lion SAFE Program. The money raised during Lion Weekend will be donated to Lion Landscapes to promote human-wildlife coexistence and support real-life conservation efforts. If you choose to make a donation you will be directly helping to save vulnerable African lions while protecting community livelihoods in Africa.

– Zoologist Sue Rea

* Banner photo by Kenneth Tryon

Polar Bear Blood Draw: How We Train with Anoki

July 19, 2021

Moving to Seneca Park Zoo in 2018, Anoki had a new environment and staff to adjust to.  Gaining an animal’s trust is the first step to training, so I spent as much time with Anoki as I could. Whether I was just sitting with her, feeding her food or giving her fun enrichment, that time allowed both of us to adjust to each other.  The treats that work best for her training are sweet potatoes and apple juice.  Anoki was trained for voluntary blood collection at her previous facility. We had a blood draw sleeve fabricated so that we would be able to continue her training, although our set up was a little different from what Anoki was used to before. This was another adjustment she had to make.

In April 2019, I started the first steps of her blood draw training.  I began with simply feeding her near the sleeve, letting her see it and investigate it.  She would lay down in front of it, which is exactly what I was working towards. I heavily reinforced this behavior so she knew that is what I wanted her to do.  Eventually, I started opening the door for the sleeve and asking her to lay down in front of it.  This is when I ran into the first issue with her training.  When the door for the sleeve was open, Anoki could not see me while I was sitting and asking her for behaviors.  I would sit to the side of the sleeve and ask her to lay down, but she would then position in front of me instead of the sleeve.  I started standing in front of the sleeve, asking Anoki to sit, and then asking her to lay down while I moved to the ground as well.  She would get confused every now and then, looking around the door to try and see me, but she eventually caught on. I would feed her through holes that were in the door so she knew her treats were coming still, even though she couldn’t see me.Anoki was trained previously to touch her paw to a stick when presented, so this was the next step of her training.  I started giving her the stick during other training sessions, to make sure she would always go to where the stick was.  I started offering the stick in the sleeve, reinforcing her each time she touched the stick. I would move the stick farther into the sleeve, having Anoki bring her paw farther into the sleeve each time.  I would also increase the amount of time she held her paw in the sleeve, making sure she held still so that eventually we would be able to safely touch her paw. This was also important because the sleeve was big for Anoki’s paw; it’s measured to fit a male polar bear paw, which is much bigger than a females.

This training continued on and off until March 2020.  When Covid hit our area, we needed to ensure the safety of our staff and animals, so we stopped all training.  I was able to start up on her training again in July 2020.  Luckily, Anoki picked right back up where we had left off; she was offering her paw in the sleeve when asked and holding still.  I asked our vet tech, Robin, to start coming to sessions.  She started with sitting next to me while I worked with Anoki, giving Anoki time to adjust to a second person being present. I always had Robin feed her to help build their relationship and trust as well.  Anoki would get confused occasionally when laying down again, moving over to be in front of me instead of the sleeve now that there were two of us.

When Anoki seemed comfortable, Robin began touching her paw.  Anoki would pull her paw away at first, but soon got used to the feeling of being touched. She couldn’t see Robin working with her paw because of the door for the sleeve.  Anoki was still moving her paw around quite a bit, flexing her toes or just moving her paw side to side in the sleeve as if she was trying to grab onto something.  We thought about different things we could do to fix this problem.  We played with the idea of adding an insert that would bring Anoki’s paw up to the top of the sleeve so Robin wouldn’t be reaching in as far.  We decided that as long as Anoki was holding still, it was safe for Robin to be reaching down into the sleeve.  We did add a bar inside of the sleeve for Anoki to grab on to. Once the bar was in and readjusted to fit her paw comfortably, Anoki hooked her claws over it and she held still.Robin’s Perspective:

Getting Anoki used to me touching her paw was only the first step in the process. While Anoki was allowing me to touch her, we still didn’t have a comfortable spot for everyone. Anoki was very focused on Randi and would only glance at me occasionally, however, we needed to get better angles on her foot. After several different trials, we found that having Randi on one side of the sleeve with me on the other and slightly centered was best. With this set up, Anoki could clearly see Randi, I had the best angle for her foot, and Anoki was comfortable. The next step was to get her used to feeling more than my hand. We started with a blunt needle. She began pulling away when we would apply pressure and again through different trials, realized that she was slightly startled by the needle. By touching her with my hand first and then using the needle, we eliminated the surprise. Now on to an actual needle.

We started with a 22g butterfly needle on a syringe. Anoki reacted to this every time by pulling away. The needle was too large. We dropped down to a 25g to get her used to the new sensation knowing we could work our way back up. The butterfly wasn’t easy to maneuver in the tight space that I had so we switched to a regular needle and syringe. We continued to acclimate Anoki to the needle sticks and finally were able to settle on a 23g regular needle with syringe. Training sessions continued with everyone in the right spot and equipped with the right tools. Randi and I would let Anoki tell us what she wanted to do that day and we always made sure we ended our sessions on a positive note whether we were able to attempt the blood draw or not. Each session allowed us to fine tune our technique and through the use of palpation, radiographs, and patience we were able to successfully draw blood from her foot.

With the sample we collected, our veterinarian is able to review results from a full test panel. This includes a Complete Blood Count (CBC) and full chemistry analysis. The results can provide information on her general well being including organ function without the need of anesthesia.  The results from the recent sample that was collected shows that Anoki is in good health!  Being an older polar bear it is important to monitor any changes that may occur and testing can now be done at routine intervals. We can also contribute research projects presented through the Polar Bear SSP.

– Randi Krieger, Zoo Keeper & Robin English, Veterinary TechnicianDonate

* Banner photo by Kenny Krieger

Giraffe Training: A TALL Order

June 19, 2021

At Seneca Park Zoo, positive reinforcement training is a critical part of our interactions with the animals – it’s good for them and helps us take better care of them. Each species and each individual brings different challenges that we have to work through. With the height of a giraffe, two trainers are needed.  As the primary trainer, Lindsay positions herself at the giraffe’s head communicating to the giraffe on what we want them to do and providing the rewards for the correct behaviors.  The secondary trainer, Jenna, simultaneously interacts with the giraffe and communicates to Lindsay what is needed from the giraffe so that they can be reinforced at the right times.  Because the two trainers usually cannot see each other, their communication is key to getting the giraffe to perform the correct behavior.All the Giraffes are trained to present both front feet on a “hoof block”.  This allows us to file their hooves.  When the Giraffes present the correct hoof, a whistle lets them know they did the correct behavior, and they receive an immediate reward of a piece carrot or a handful of grain.  When the secondary trainer approaches the Giraffe’s hoof and starts filing the hoof the Giraffe is rewarded continuously.  Using this behavior as a foundation, we moved on to a blood draw from the giraffes’ fetlock, or the upper knuckle of the foot, as a large vein runs along this area. As we developed this behavior, we had to work with the giraffes’ preferences. For example, Parker and Kipenzi seem more comfortable presenting their right hoof while Iggy is more comfortable presenting her left hoof.

As the secondary trainer, Jenna “desensitized” each giraffe to a “poke” on the large vein on the fetlock. We kept the steps simple, working from just pushing on the vein with a finger to using a hoof pick to poke the vein. This is a tool that they are used to seeing for their foot care, so touching them with it was already familiar to them. Lastly, after little to no reaction to the other stimuli, a needle was used for the blood draw. The prick of a needle is very similar to the bite of a fly to the giraffe, so as long as they were rewarded with the grain at the proper timing, the giraffes have little to no response! While the blood is being collected, the giraffe enjoys the grain until they choose to leave the session!This behavior is so important for a number of reasons. First, it gives us a good picture of the health of each giraffe. We can see the number of each type of cell in the blood, and get information about their kidney, liver, and other organs’ function. Second, we can store plasma and blood from our giraffes that might be needed in case of a health problem, either in our giraffe here at Seneca Park Zoo or as part of the Giraffe Blood Bank, a group of accredited zoos who have agreed to provide blood products to other zoos. Finally, blood donation helps us our giraffe contribute to the conservation of giraffe in the wild. For example, we are contributing a study examining genetics of giraffe spot patterns and how it impacts survival in the wild.

– Zoologist Jenna Bovee, Assistant Curator Lindsay Brinda & Assistant Zoo Director Dr. Louis DivincentiDonate

* Banner photo by Walter Brooks

World Giraffe Day 2021: How the Zoo Supports Giraffe Conservation

June 19, 2021

June 21 is World Giraffe Day, when we celebrate the tallest land animal on the longest day of the year! In addition to having fun and educational giraffe-themed activities at the Zoo, an important part of our celebration is raising awareness and money for giraffe conservation. Giraffe are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), with many of the species and subspecies designated as endangered or critically endangered. This includes the Masai species that we have here at Seneca Park Zoo, whose numbers have declined around 50% in the last 30 years across the natural range, mainly due to habitat loss and poaching.To help Iggy, Kipenzi, and Parker’s wild counterparts, the Zoo partners with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), which operates and supports conservation efforts in 16 African countries. These efforts include protecting giraffe habitat, monitoring giraffe numbers and locations, anti-poaching activities, research, and conservation education.

In addition to supporting GCF financially, Seneca Park Zoo is a Partner of the Giraffe SAFE Program, a collaboration of AZA-accredited zoos committed to maximizing their impact on giraffe conservation. As part of that effort, last year, Zoo Keeper Azzara Oston went to Uganda as part of a joint project between GCF and the Uganda Wildlife Authority to monitor the critically endangered Nubian giraffe. This involved locating giraffe, identifying them, and collecting feces to learn more about their diet.DonateSome of these giraffe had been translocated from a different part of the country, so this kind of monitoring is critical to gauge their health and the success of their reintroduction to an area where Nubian giraffe had historically lived. Although the trip had to be shortened as a result of the COVID pandemic, Seneca Park Zoo will continue to participate in these projects in the future.

You can read more about Azzara’s experience here.

Additionally, Iggy, Kipenzi, and Parker are directly helping their wild counterparts through participating in research studies targeted at answering questions important for giraffe conservation. We are actively training our giraffe to donate blood, which allows them to participate in genetics and pharmacokinetics studies to understand issues ranging from calf survivorship to the optimal drugs and dosages for treatment of diseases affecting giraffe in the natural range.

If you’d like to help with giraffe conservation, you can donate to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation by clicking the button below!

 Sarah Koopman, Zoo Keeper

Keeper Connection: Sea Lion Stranding & Marine Mammal Care Center

June 11, 2021

In 2015, there was a mass stranding of California Sea Lions due to the rise in temperature in the ocean. The fish sought out the cooler water, and the female sea lions that gave birth that year left their pups to hide on the rocky shores for days leaving the pups hungry for their mother’s milk.The pups began swimming while weak with hunger. They would eat anything they could find in the ocean and at this time it wasn’t fish. Thousands of sea lions were being washed up on shore in record numbers. Sea lions get the water they need to live by the fish they eat, not by drinking. Not consuming fish left them dehydrated as well as emaciated. The older animals began consuming trash such as straws, plastic bags, zip ties, fishing line, cigarette butts and balloons just to name a few.

I know this not only from watching the news, but also because I went to the Marine Mammal Care Center in California to volunteer during this catastrophic event. I assisted the staff and other volunteers in removing trash from these very ill animals. There was a fishing net wrapped around one sea lion’s neck cutting into her skin. Pups were brought in by the dozen in vans. We would weigh them, give them fluids, enemas and open their mouths to remove the trash. We took their temperatures and gave them various medications by injection. We made a fish gruel and tube fed the weak.

Some animals were at the center for a week or two recovering when I arrived. For these animals we would prepare and feed them frozen fish. We did not linger, just feed them and leave so humans were not associated with food, therefore the sea lions would not approach humans when released.You may be wondering why humans are potentially dangerous to sea lions besides the trash we produce. Fishermen and sea lions have been competing for fish for as long as humans have been fishing. In fact, one of the California sea lions in our care at the Zoo today, Lily, was rescued at the San Pedro Marine Mammal Care Center in 2010 where the veterinarian staff removed a bullet from Lily’s right flipper. Someone shot her when she was just a small pup. Thankfully, she survived and was brought to our zoo. She is eleven years old now. I have known her since she arrived and can tell you she is intelligent, gentle, healthy and the mother of her only offspring, Bob.

If you find yourself in California and love the ocean and sea lions I encourage you to volunteer at any of the rescue centers in California. If you don’t have the time, donations are always welcome. Many of these centers run solely on donations, hard work and big hearts. I met some wonderful people there and learned how important our oceans are to all of us.

– Mary Ellen Ostrander, ZoologistDonate to Ocean Conservation

How Oil Spills Effect the Ocean and What We Can Do About It

June 12, 2021

Surprisingly, oil spills are more common than you might think. Thousands of oil spills occur in US waters every year, yet most of these spills are small. Many people normally think of major disasters, like a pipeline burst or a drilling operation gone wrong. However, small spills, such as refueling a ship, can still cause damage to an aquatic ecosystem, especially if these small spills happen in a sensitive environment. Oil spills can occur anywhere that oil is drilled, transported, or used, and with most of the world using oil – it can really happen anywhere!Oil spills generally effect wildlife in two ways. Oiling is a term for oil physically harming a plant or animal. We all have seen TV commercials related to dish soap that is used to remove oil from an otter’s coat or a penguin’s feathers. The effected animal’s survival depends on how much oil they have coated on them. It will be difficult for an animal to survive coated in large amounts of oil. Animals may also accidentally ingest oil when attempting to clean themselves. Fish that comes into contact with oil can become unsafe not only for animals like sea lions, but for humans as well. Wildlife can be silently harmed through oil toxicity. Oil compounds are toxic and can cause a variety of health issues, such as immune system deficiencies, in humans and animals.

The U.S. Coast Guard is primarily responsible for cleaning up oil spills, however, as we learned in our science experiment presented on social media, not all of the oil can be removed from waterways. It is a delicate balance between removing the oil, and making sure the ecosystem isn’t being damaged by the removal process.

Together, there are small steps we can all take to prevent oil spills into our waterways. These steps include various suggestions, such as:

  • Properly dispose of used oil and oil filters
  • Do not overfill fuel tanks
  • Immediately contain spills and using absorbent pads for any cleanup
  • Support reputable organizations that rescue wildlife from oil spills, such as SANCCOB Saves Sea Birds. Many ecosystems are shared, so helping one species usually helps out another!
  • Connect with water conservation groups at a local level, such as participating in a local cleanup held by Seneca Park Zoo! All pollution is a threat to wildlife.

– Morgan Saidian, Zoo Keeper