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


Audiomoth Science: Sounds of the Solar Eclipse

March 2024

As the 2024 Solar Eclipse approaches, the Seneca Park Zoo is launching a project to understand better how animals react to the phenomenaWhile zoo guests stroll the Zoo, observing how the animals respond, zoo staff will be collecting the sounds you can hear, and those you can’t.   

Staff will strategically be placing an open source audio recorder called Audiomoths ( around the Zoo near the giraffes, zebras, elephants, snowy owls, cranes, sea lions, tiger, lions, baboons, wolves, and otters to monitor any animal behaviors that may happen when the eclipse happens. 

These audiomoths record hyperspectral audio, meaning they can capture the sounds humans can’t hearOver the weeks leading up to the eclipse, the Zoo will capture baseline data of the animalsThis baseline data will be compared with any anomalies during the eclipse and presented to staff, zoo guests, and the larger community if they are interested. 

The Zoo has used this technology to study animal activity in places like Madagascar, and to be able to bring this sort of science right into our back is a truly special experience.

“Science is all about filling in the holes. As we put these out and collect more and more information, that just adds to that story and allows us to fill in the holes for certain spaces.” – Tom Snyder, director of programming and conservation action

We are excited to celebrate this once-in-a-generation celestial event! In addition to the audiomoth recordings, the Zoo will also be hosting a variety of onsite activities and guests that weekend (April 6-8) for guests to enjoy and learn from including Skyler Kleinschmidt, NASA Heliophysicist and Astrophysicist Emily Rice! 

Learn more about the Eclipse Weekend at the Zoo here.

Check out local news coverage:

Audiomoth 2

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.

Rhino Jiwe Turns 7! Learn More About Him & His Care From One of His Keepers

December 4, 2023

Seneca Park Zoo’s southern white rhino ‘Jiwe’ has turned seven! As the second largest land mammal, he has tipped the scale at just over 4,000lbs and is still growing. Once full grown, he could weigh between 5,000 and 6,000 pounds. Their horns grow throughout their whole life, about 7cm per year. They are composed of keratin, the same substance as your fingernails and hair!

Jiwe is great to work with. He engages with any kind of enrichment, and is an active participant in his training, especially when brushing is involved! This allows us to easily provide routine health care such as, administer vaccines, obtain blood samples, and even get foot x-rays! When Jiwe is not interacting with his keepers or enrichment, you will find him eating or sleeping. Rhinos usually sleep in intervals that total up to eight hours per day.

Jiwe is currently living his best bachelor life as male rhinos are solitary. Female white rhinos stay in groups. Fun fact, a group of rhinos is called a “crash” not a herd. There are two subspecies of white rhinos, southern and northern. The southern white rhino population continues to decline and is listed as near threatened. There are only two northern white rhinos left in the world, who are both female. Their largest threat is poaching. 

While many factors are involved with trying to protect rhinos, a visit to see Jiwe is a great start! He is a wonderful ambassador animal that guests can make a personal connection with to be inspired to help save this species. Be sure to check out the savanna or rhino experiences to get a chance to go behind the scenes and learn more about rhinos and their care!

– Zoologist Kat Kleinschmidt 

X-Raying a Rhino

Providing medical care to the animals at the Zoo is of upmost importance. Many animals require their own participation to receive vaccines, or treat a medical issue. It is less stressful to train an animal to participate in their own health care, before an issue arises. This is why we decided to train our resident rhino, Jiwe, for foot x-rays. 

The biggest challenge was creating something that he couldn’t break! At 4,000lbs, and an eagerness to play with anything, our main goal was for him not to mess with the board and potentially break the x-ray plate. Luckily, one of our handy keepers built a very sturdy board that the plate holder fits perfectly into! It is the same x-ray plate holder that we use for the elephants, so we knew it should hold his weight. Jiwe was rewarded for ignoring the board, and stepping on the plate. And our first attempt at a real x-ray was successful! 

This information allows us to compare any future foot issues if they should arise. Not to mention, it’s very rewarding to Jiwe as he receives good treats and brushing time from his keepers and vet staff!

– Zoologist Kat Kleinschmidt 

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

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.

Why are Snakes Important?

August 20, 2023

Snakes and humans have had a long, troubled relationship. For as many years as I have worked at the Zoo, I hear the same themes repeatedly. Some people are fascinated with snakes, but most are fearful of them or even despise them. This history goes back much farther than a zoo career – even thousands of years. I have been in the “fascination” group since I was a young boy. One thing that I have learned is that the fear is often mutual for snake and human. There have been many negative encounters between both for ages.

Since I have worked at the Zoo, I have spent a lot of time dedicated on education and dispelling myths about snakes. I consider myself lucky to work with snakes and study them in nature. I have increased my knowledge of snake behavior across many species and am often impressed by their inquisitive behavior.

Some of this behavior is likely driven by unique adaptations that snakes possess. Snakes use a different sensory organ to smell. This organ is often called the Jacobson’s organ or vomeronasal organ. In snakes, these are two bulb-like organs on the roof of the mouth. The forked tongue collects odor molecules and distributes them to these organs. There is evidence that the forked tongue and both organs in the mouth help snakes determine where the scent is coming from. Stereo sense of smell!?

Another example of a unique adaptation that might lead to inquisitive behavior would be the heat sensing organs that some snakes possess. It is well known that the pit vipers have highly adapted heat sensing organs, but did you know that many boas and pythons possess these as well? These organs help these snakes hunt for “warm-blooded” prey day or night. New evidence shows that these snakes use these organs as a way to aid in thermoregulation helping them to find warmer or cooler spots to regulate their body temperature.

Snakes are amazing predators! Some use ambush as a hunting technique, while others are active foragers. This makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Snakes rely on the element of surprise as a way to survive. They try very hard to spend their lives to go undetected. Unless you are prey, they just want to be passed by. This is often where the snake and human conflict arises. And it is just as surprising to the snake as it is to the person!

Some species of snakes live very close to places where we live. Often some of the things we like are exactly what snakes need because their preferred prey or habitat reside near. For instance, some of the things in our yards – garden rock borders, firewood piles, garbage cans, and fences attract prey and create an ideal hunting opportunity for snakes. Often, the foundations of our own homes create the same hunting opportunities or even create ideal over-wintering conditions for snakes.

We may not realize it, but these snakes are helping us by keeping our yards and homes free of small mammals too. Most of us don’t relish sharing space with small rodents. They get into pet food or even our own. Their feces can carry disease that can be transmitted to us through infected food. Some of these rodents can carry parasitic insects like ticks or fleas. These insects can also spread diseases like Lyme disease. One study on the feeding preferences of Timber rattlesnakes found that these snakes are estimated to each remove over 2500 ticks from the environment every year!

If you have the opportunity, I would recommend observing snakes from a distance – making sure they are comfortable with your presence. A snake that doesn’t feel threatened will demonstrate the inquisitive behavior that I’ve mentioned. They will slowly move through the habitat, sensing smells with their tongue. They may even come over to check you out. If it’s not scary for them, it won’t be scary for you! At the very least, always make sure to give them safe passage. They do far more good than harm!

– Assistant Curator John Adamski

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