Amur Tiger Katya Blood Draw

March 9, 2022

Tracking the health of our zoo animals is at the forefront of what we do at the Seneca Park Zoo. One of the tools we have to monitor our geriatric animals is routine bloodwork to track trends. These blood values can indicate changes in organ function that the veterinarian can respond to with various treatments. With older animals, the risk of anesthesia to collect samples increases so Zoo Keeper Randi Krieger and Veterinary Technician Robin English began working with our 16-year-old (17 in May!)  Amur Tiger, Katya, to try and get a blood sample without anesthesia. After many months of positive reinforcement, they were able to successful collect a blood sample from her tail. This behavior can now be used to track Katya’s health more frequently as she ages.

– Veterinary Technician Robin English 

* Banner photo by Wayne Smith

Holiday Recycling With the Zoo

Holiday Recycling Tips & Guidelines

The holiday season can not only be a source of joy but also a large source of trash! In the months between November and February, Monroe County residents generate the highest amount of trash and recyclables of the year due to high consumerism. When we are shopping for, wrapping, and unwrapping gifts, we should be aware of what materials we are using and how we are disposing of our trash and recyclables. The more materials we recycle and dispose of correctly the less plastic and other pollutants end up in our green spaces and water ways.

The Seneca Park Zoo Society has been focused on removing trash from these areas with help from local volunteers with our Community Cleanup program. Since 2017, hundreds of volunteers have removed over 10,000 lbs. of trash from all over the Rochester area, not only removing the trash but reporting on what items are found to get a better understanding of what items are most impactful.

The first Community Cleanup of 2022 will be New Year’s Day at Turning Point Park. This will be a great chance to start the year off right and give back to our environment by helping to remove trash in a park that borders the Genesee River. Large groups and people of all ages are welcome!

If you would like to join us, stay tuned for more in 2022. Check out some of the recycling tips provided by Monroe County’s Department of Environmental Services for some great ways to improve your personal sustainability this holiday season. By working together we can all help to make Rochester a greener, cleaner place!

– Dave Will, Lead Zoo Naturalist for Citizen Science

Keeper Connection: In the Field – Saving endangered African penguins in South Africa

This article first ran in our ZooNooz April 2020 edition but since that issue was only released digitally due to the pandemic/shutdown we wanted to highlight this awesome experience and conservation message again—and what better time than during Penguin Weekend! 

Every year, Seneca Park Zoo Society raises thousands of dollars for conservation efforts locally and globally. And while our conservation partners need financial assistance, they also need help we can only provide by sending staff members to their sites. In 2019, funds were made available to send Zoo Keeper Kevin Blakely to SANCCOB in South Africa where he spent two weeks in December helping to rehabilitate African penguins.

A zoo keeper at Seneca Park Zoo since 2013, Kevin is the primary African penguin keeper and has long been interested in marine animals.

“My passion for marine animals began when I was at college and living in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I went on snorkeling trips to the Florida Keys and visited the Ft. Lauderdale aquarium regularly. I had my first saltwater aquarium in my college apartment, and I’ve had at least one in my home ever since!”

A long-time partner of the Zoo, SANCCOB is committed to reversing the decline of seabird populations through the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of ill, injured, abandoned, and oil seabirds – especially the endangered African penguin.

“Donations and money are great and always needed, but organizations like SANCCOB really do appreciate people on the ground. SANCCOB welcomes volunteers of all experience levels and backgrounds because there’s always something that needs to be done, from laundry and cleaning to food prep.”

Following an extensive application process and a nearly 18-hour flight, Kevin made it to SANCCOB’s main facility in Table View, South Africa. Each morning began with an all-staff meeting to review pen assignments, supervisor roles, and any symptoms to look for in the penguins.

On Kevin’s first day, he was assigned to food prep, which is the heart of SANCCOB’s operations. He spent the entire day learning the food prep area, which includes medications and vitamins, and how to clean syringes and prepare formula for the penguins.

“Most volunteers are only around for a couple of weeks, so they need you up to speed and working from day two. The first couple of days can be hectic and overwhelming as you learn their procedures.”

Preparing Penguin Food
On Kevin’s first day, he was assigned to food prep, which is the heart of SANCCOB’s operations. He spent the entire day learning the food prep area, which includes medications and vitamins, and how to clean syringes and prepare formula for the penguins.
Speezy had come to SANCCOB three months earlier emaciated and suffering from a bad foot injury.
Speezy had come to SANCCOB three months earlier emaciated and suffering from a bad foot injury.
Food prep is at the heart of SANCCOB’s operations. Volunteers are required to learn everything from the locations of all medications and vitamins, to how to clean syringes and prepare formula.

Within a couple of days, Kevin was inside a pen feeding penguins. He picked up procedures quickly thanks to his experience with the Zoo’s African penguin colony, and it wasn’t long before Kevin was named a pen supervisor.

“I love to learn new things and be challenged. One of my proudest moments was coming in one morning to see my name listed as a pen supervisor. To start out and have no idea what’s going on, I was proud of how quickly I became comfortable with my assignments.”

“One-hour swimmers”

Seabirds administered to SANCCOB are divided into pens based on swimming abilities. Kevin was responsible for Pen 5, which at one point held 42 penguins. With 12 pens in total, two to three people are needed in each pen and birds are consolidated based on amount of help available. Pen 5 was home to many “one-hour swimmers”, which refers to the length of time a bird can swim during a session. When penguins are close to release, they need to be able to swim at least one-hour straight three times a day.

Kevin aimed to get the penguins into the water first thing in the morning so they could swim for one of their three hours. During that time, he would clean their pen, mats, walls, and equipment. After the first swim, it was time to prepare for feeding.

Each penguin gets three large fish (120-130 fish are prepped daily!) and formula – a blend of seafood, vitamins, and minerals. Some of the penguins also need electrolytes, additional medications, and to use the nebulizer to aid in their respiratory issues.

The SANCCOB facility has two pools about two-feet deep, with six pens surrounding each pool. After each swim, the penguins’ feathers are examined to ensure they’ve retained their waterproofing and their weight is checked for respiratory issues. The goal is to get them in the ocean as soon as possible.

“One of the most rewarding parts of volunteering at SANCCOB was realizing how much I was needed. Our work was important. It wasn’t just a vacation. Sometimes I was working 10-hour days, but I didn’t want to leave.”

Kevin was responsible for Pen 5, which was home to many “one-hour swimmers”, which refers to the length of time a bird can swim during a session.

Adopting a penguin
While supervising Pen 5, Kevin connected with an adult penguin that had come to the center three months earlier emaciated and suffering from a bad foot injury. Once the penguin was stabilized, it was determined that removing the injured foot was his best chance for survival. After months of rehabilitation, the penguin was finally cleared for release and Kevin had the opportunity to be a part of it.

To honor this bird’s fighting spirit and to thank SANCCOB for their tireless efforts to save seabirds, Kevin adopted the bird on behalf of Seneca Park Zoo and named him SPeeZy. On December 23, 2019, Speezy was released at the site of the Stony Point penguin colony, along with 16 other African penguins.

Seabirds that have been deemed non-releasable permanently live at SANCCOB in their “Home Pen”, while the ICU Pen is for “10-minute swimmers”. Because many pens are at capacity, SANCCOB’s work to rehabilitate disabled penguins for release, like Speezy, is so critical.

“Traveling to South Africa and working at SANCCOB was a dream come true. When you work with an endangered animal daily, it becomes very personal. During all my keeper chats at the Zoo, I not only try to educate our guests about the threats faced by African penguins, but also how people can help from right here in Rochester. For me to be able to go there and be part of the SANCCOB team, even for a short time, was an incredible honor and something I hope to do again very soon.”


The Dilemma: The Clutch and Molt Overlap

About 90% of the birds at SANCCOB are “blues,” or between juveniles and chicks. At this age, they’ve molted out of their feathers but can’t feed themselves and are still with their parents.

Normally, African penguins breed in the autumn and winter – between March and September. By October and November, the last chicks would have fledged and adults begin spending several weeks at sea fattening up for molt, which happens in November and December. In recent years, breeding has been delayed and the birds run into a dilemma late in the year.

When the penguins lay eggs in March or April, there are often heat waves and extreme storms in South Africa, which causes the birds to abandon their eggs or lose their clutches altogether (penguins usually lay two eggs per clutch).

The main reason for this delayed breeding is the decline of sardine and anchovy populations, the African penguin’s main prey, due to overfishing and climate change. Because of this, penguins are struggling to find enough food to be fit enough for breeding season.
Food availability, as well as environmental changes, has shifted breeding to later in the year when conditions improve. Many penguins now successfully lay eggs and start raising chicks in late winter (August/September or later). Therefore, these chicks are still in the need of parental feeding when the parents are due to molt.

African penguins fully shed their feathers once a year to secure waterproofing. Molting requires them to stay on land for several weeks, so they can’t hunt for themselves or their chicks during that time. Unfortunately, many penguins go into molt and are left standing next to their chicks at the nest site but unable to feed the them.

That’s where SANCCOB’s Penguin Rangers come in. Abandoned and weak chicks are identified and removed from the colony and taken to SANCCOB for hand-rearing and later, release back into nature. SANCCOB is working closely with the South African government and the managing authorities to try and address these problems and secure safe breeding spaces for the birds.

It is estimated there are only around 13,200 breeding pairs left in all South Africa.

– Zoo Keeper Kevin Blakely


Ways you can help African penguins:

  • Adopt a penguin at SANCCOB – Adopt an African penguin or penguin egg that will be rehabilitated and released or adopt a ‘Home Pen’ bird that lives permanently at SANCCOB. Funds help to provide incubation, food, and veterinary treatment.
  • Donate to SANCCOB – Whether you donate your time or money, you can make a difference in the survival of endangered African penguins and other seabirds in distress. For more information, visit
  • Visit the Zoo to learn more about African penguins and the threats they face in nature through keeper chats, special experiences, and more.
  • Purchase sustainably sourced seafood – Purchase seafood caught or farmed in ways that support a healthy ocean. Ask your local grocer if they sell sustainable seafood and visit to learn more about eco-friendly options.

Supporting the Elephant Blood Bank

September 28, 2021

Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) is a naturally occurring virus of elephants in the wild and in zoos. Historically, the virus has been associated with only Asian elephants; however, African elephants are increasingly affected by the virus. A latent, or hidden, phase can reside in an elephant no signs or symptoms. When it comes out of latency and circulates in the bloodstream, EEHV causes severe disease and often rapid death, especially in weaned calves. While there is no cure for EEHV, the elephant community, led by veterinarians and researchers working in and with AZA-accredited zoos, is learning more about the virus and how to manage it, increasing survival rates. Elephants with EEHV require aggressive treatment with antivirals, intravenous fluids, and often blood products.Although Genny C, Lilac, and Moki do not have EEHV, and due to their age, are at very low risk, they can still help their counterparts who may be at risk. Because our elephants voluntarily participate in their own health care, especially allowing their blood to be taken, Seneca Park Zoo is to contribute to an “elephant blood bank” formed by a consortium of zoos housing elephants.

Genny C recently became our first donor, allowing us to take about 1 liter of her blood. The blood was collected into a special bag containing anticoagulants to keep the blood from clotting, and nutrients to maintain the red blood cells. Thanks to our friends at Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Services, this blood was spun in a special centrifuge, and separated into RBCs and fresh frozen plasma (FFP). We can store the RBCs for 5 months and the FFP for a year, and if an elephant becomes ill with EEHV, or any disease that requires blood products, we can send these products to help with their treatment.

The high quality of our veterinary care program, coupled with our excellent positive reinforcement training program and Genny C, Lilac, and Moki’s relationship with their keepers, allows Seneca Park Zoo to continue to contribute to the larger zoo community!

– Dr. Louis DiVincenti, Assistant Zoo Director – Animal Care and ConservationDonate

Supporting Elephant Conservation with IEF

September 22, 2021

During our Elephant Week, we are supporting the wonderful conservation organization International Elephant Foundation (IEF) which is dedicated to the conservation of African and Asian elephants worldwide. There are multiple projects occurring within this organization that our zoo is a part of! The first is The Mounted Horse Patrol Team (MHPT) in Mount Kenya. We have been supporting this project since 2015. Having a patrol team on horses allows the team to travel faster and further into the park. They are responsible for protecting approximately 54,800 hectares of habitat that is home to around 13,000 elephants. This team has and continues to catch and arrest poachers, remove snares placed by poachers, and provide educational opportunities to students and community members.The second project that we support is one that is focused on sustaining local support for elephant conservation near Ruaha, Tanzania. They focus on supporting the local community and educating them on how to positively coexist with their local wildlife through creating conservation curriculums, creating opportunities for the communities to see their local wildlife in a positive setting, and more!

The last project that we support is enabling human-elephant coexistence through applied research and stakeholder engagement in Botswana. They created “Living with Elephants” workshops and presented them in 4 communities and 8 cattle posts. These workshops teach community members human-elephant coexistence strategies and allows researchers to learn from those members as they report their experiences.

IEF is doing really great work for elephants. That’s why we want to continue to support them! Please donate what you can and every $5 donated earns you a chance to win a painting done by one of our elephant friends here at the zoo!

– Zoo Keeper Hanna KaiserDonate

* Banner photo by Zoo Keeper Kat Kleinschmidt

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 [email protected] 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