Using camera traps to discover local wildlife

June 11, 2018

Did you know you can help local wildlife simply by setting up a trail camera in your backyard? Trail cameras, or camera traps, are used by organizations around the world to study and help conserve wildlife. Cameras are a way to observe wildlife without disrupting animals or the environment.

On Saturday, June 16, Seneca Park Zoo will be hosting Camera Traps as Conservation Tools, a day dedicated to showing guests how camera traps are used to contribute to conservation. Interactive stations and animal experiences will provide an in-depth look at conservation methods with the goal of empowering guests to support organizations that use camera traps, like Snow Leopard Trust or even your Zoo, or by setting up their own cameras to observe the wildlife right in their backyards!

Kirk Doran, a member of the Zoo Society’s Education Committee, moved to Rochester from Indiana four years ago and now calls Bushnell’s Basin home. A nature enthusiast with a house near Powder Mills Park, Kirk has set up trail cameras to capture images of the animals that venture onto his property.Q: Where did you set up your trail camera?
Kirk: We have about two to three acres of land with mature trees behind our home. Initially, I set up a camera just in the backyard and it caught foxes, skunk, the neighbor’s cat, lots of deer, wild turkey, coyotes, and more. But two years ago, in February, I noticed we had some baby foxes playing behind our fence – the den was about 10 feet from the back of the fence – so I put a camera next to one of the den openings.

Q: What was it like to have a family of foxes living on your property?
Kirk: It was amazing to watch the babies grow up, being nursed, and the parents bringing back game for them. I set up a second trail camera that records video to get even more footage of the foxes growing up. My wife and I watched them all summer long. We hoped they would return the following year and indeed – the same father, with a new female, was back in the den with a new liter. Our cameras captured images the babies coming out of their den for the first time but soon after, the mother moved them to a different location.

Q: Have your experiences with trail cameras taught you more about wildlife?
Kirk: I’ve always had an interest in wildlife, and now I find myself doing research to learn more about the behaviors of species we catch on camera. You wouldn’t think of some of these animals living around here, but you’d be surprised at what the camera captures.Q: What type of trail cameras do you have?
Kirk: Trail cameras are easy to find, whether online or in stores like DICKS or Field & Stream. But there are an overwhelming number of options out there. You can find something simple, easy-to-use, and affordable that still captures quality images.

I have a basic Moultrie trail camera that I got as a gift about five or six years ago. My other camera that captures video is one I bought right off Amazon.

Q: Can anyone use camera traps to observe wildlife?
Kirk: Camera trapping is easy for anyone to pick up. Whether you live in a more residential or rural area, you’d be surprised at the animals you see traveling through your backyard.

Q: What have you enjoyed most about camera trapping?
Kirk: Being able to witness those baby foxes grow up was incredible. It was almost like having a family of pets that we grew attached to. We were sad when they left. I can’t really put into words how exciting it was. Almost every evening at dusk we’d see them playing in the background.

Q: Did you do attempt to do anything for the animals?
Kirk: Wildlife always needs water, so at the end of one of the seasons, I put a big pan of water in our backyard. Within three weeks, the cameras captured many images of foxes, skunks, birds, opossums, deer, and more – all using that dish as a source of water. Even in a more residential neighborhood, water can bring in all types of wildlife.While the family of foxes has moved on, Kirk recently noticed a family of groundhogs has moved into the den and had baby groundhogs! He’s looking forward to following their journey.


Be sure to visit the Zoo Saturday, June 16, for Camera Traps as Conservation Tools Day to learn how you can get involved.

Summer Programs 2018

Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day, Summer Programs at Seneca Park Zoo provide engaging opportunities to enrich your Zoo experience.

Member Mornings: An exclusive, members-only animal encounter from 9:30 to 10 a.m. at the Zoo’s front gate.

Animal Experiences: Learn how the animals stay healthy, engaged, and active as zoo keepers engage in behavioral training, feeding, or environmental enrichment.

Keeper Chats: Hear about the animals directly from zoo keepers and zoologists, the caretakers they most trust.

Program Animal Encounter: Get up close and personal with one of the Zoo’s program animals, and learn about the Zoo’s conservation efforts locally and globally at the Nature Connection Stage.DOWNLOAD 2018 SCHEDULEVIEW DAY-BY-DAY SCHEDULE

Join the Zoo in our move towards sustainability

April 20, 2018

Have you ever been inspired by the roar of a lion or the stealth of a snow leopard?

If you have ever made this type of powerful connection, you may have also felt yourself transition from excitement to complete helplessness. Learning about the perils of these amazing animals in their natural range, and wondering what you can do to help when you live on the other side of the world, can be completely deflating. But making an impact for species survival may be as simple as recycling or turning your heat down a couple degrees.

Join Seneca Park Zoo in our move towards sustainability. We recognize that everyone can make a difference for our planet by making some simple lifestyle adjustments.But how can recycling or turning your heat down here in Rochester help save animals as far away as Africa or Asia? Many species that face extinction in the near future face threats in their environment that we can help to alleviate.

By recycling your cardboard and paper, you can help reduce the amount of deforestation for tree-based products. Habitat destruction is often driven by the need for natural resources. Reusing these resources lowers the demand for new ones.

By turning your thermostat down a couple of degrees in the winter, you can help reduce your carbon footprint. Carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gasses cause changes in our climate, which effect the ecosystem. Disruptions in ecosystems can wreak havoc for species, causing detrimental effects on their population numbers.On April 22, Seneca Park Zoo will be joining the rest of the planet in celebrating Earth Day. Staff, docents, volunteers, local partners, and guests will gather together in a joint effort to promote sustainability and caring for our natural world. Animal experiences and feedings will highlight the Zoo’s many inspiring animals, and how you can help to save their wild counterparts. People of all ages will be able to enjoy games and hands-on activities that will create a fun and meaningful learning experience, and a nature hike in lower Seneca Park will provide the opportunity to connect to nature. Diamond Packaging – our sponsor for Earth Day, and a zero-waste to landfill organization (yes, you read right – zero waste) – will demonstrate how you can work towards zero waste and sustainability. They will also be giving away tree saplings and Seneca Park Zoo’s own native western NY seed mix for a butterfly garden so that you can help plant and create important natural habitat.We hope that you join us for our Earth Day celebration, and in our move towards sustainability. Next time you visit the Zoo, stop by our ZooShop to find sustainable products such as no-container shampoo, bins that allow you to compost in your own kitchen, and a water pebble that helps you to save water.  Check out your compostable straw and utensils next time you enjoy a meal from Eagle’s Landing Café or Crater Canteen. Watch our animal care staff compost animal waste. Take part in our citizen science programs like One Cubic Foot to learn about aquatic health and caring for our waterways. Help establish critical pollinator habitat by taking part in Butterfly Beltway. Speak to a Zoo Naturalist and ask for information on becoming an educated consumer, like purchasing sustainable seafood or products that contain sustainably sourced palm oil.

If we all work together to make some small changes, we can make a big difference for our planet and its amazing biodiversity. Use the list below to help you become empowered and take action to help save species from extinction!– Rhonda McDonald, Program Manager

  1. Recycle, Reduce, Reuse!
  2. Use educated consumerism – buy local products and follow the Seafood Watch Consumer Guide from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
  3. Turn off lights when not in use. Replace old light bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs.
  4. Use proper trash receptacles for things that can’t be recycled.
  5. Carry reusable bags & water bottles.
  6. Avoid single-use plastics like straws, utensils, to-go drink lids.
  7. Walk, cycle, carpool, or take public transportation.
  8. Turn off taps and take shorter showers to save water.
  9. Unplug appliances (toaster, laptop etc.) when not in use.
  10. Turn off vehicles while waiting rather than idling.
  11. Turn your thermostat two degrees down in the winter, two degrees up in the summer.
  12. Avoid the dryer and hang your clothes to dry.
  13. Use rechargeable batteries.
  14. Eliminate Styrofoam – it doesn’t decompose!
  15. Compost!
  16. Eat one or more meatless meals a week, avoid red meats.
  17. Weatherize your house to prevent heat loss.
  18. Plant a tree or garden.
  19. Speak up – organize a campaign or event to educate others & raise awareness about conservation issues.
  20. Assist in a community recycling collection event.

Seneca Park Zoo Society named one of Rochester’s Top Workplaces

March 29, 2018

Seneca Park Zoo Society has received an extraordinary accolade: we were named one of the best places to work in our region. The designation is based on the results of an anonymous survey taken by the full-time and year-round part-time staff of the Zoo Society.

I believe Zoo Society staff reported high levels of workplace satisfaction for one primary reason: we share common values, working toward a mission we all believe in. When you come to work every day knowing that the people around you share your values, and want to do everything possible to connect our community with wildlife so they are moved to conserve it, it matters. We do meaningful work here. We are doing our part to leave the world a better place. THAT is motivating. I could not be more proud of the team we have assembled to carry out the Zoo’s mission.Why write a post with what might seem like self-serving information? Because YOU are part of the reason we have received this award. Our guests, members, volunteers, and supporters:

  • Share our mission and believe in the role zoos play in saving animals from extinction
  • Inspire us to provide best-in-class experiences with the Zoo, while you are here on site, and through outreach programs
  • Support the Zoo in numerous ways, from telling friends and family about what’s happening here, to contributing to conservation causes, to enrolling your children or grandchildren in camps and classes, and so much more.

You are both a cheering section, and an echo chamber, championing the Zoo’s efforts and reinforcing the importance of our work.

In addition to the support of the Zoo community, the Zoo Society is proud to work in partnership with Monroe County to fulfill the Zoo’s mission of inspiring our community to connect with, care for, and conserve wildlife and wild places.

There is no better time to come enjoy the Zoo and bring friends and family as the Zoo begins its phenomenal transformation. Thank you for your support, your encouragement, and your enjoyment of all that is Seneca Park Zoo.– Pamela Reed Sanchez, President and CEO

Discover local biodiversity at the Zoo’s FrogWatch USA volunteer training session

February 15, 2018

Do you ever listen to the sounds of wildlife on a warm summer night and wonder what the animals are communicating?

At Seneca Park Zoo, we understand the importance of local biodiversity and water quality, and have taken action to report it anyway we can. The Zoo is a part of a program run by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) called FrogWatch USA. This program utilizes a strategy called citizen science, which is a way for individuals, groups, and families to take part in and contribute to scientific projects that are far too big for a team of scientists to complete on their own.As a member of the FrogWatch USA community, the Zoo will be working to map the location and biodiversity of local frog and toad populations by listening to mating calls in three-minute intervals. We’ll document our observations and then upload them to the national online database. FrogWatch USA is a national study with hundreds of volunteers. Having this data is crucial to documenting diseases, shifts in population or biodiversity, and overall distribution of the very important frogs and toads of the United States. Amphibians are amazing indicators of health in an ecosystem because they can “breath” through their skin, making them susceptible to pollution and other health factors. This unique adaptation is why we look for them to help us determine the health of a specific area.Anyone is welcome to become a FrogWatch USA volunteer through the Zoo. To ensure the data is usable by scientists, a one-time training session is required of all volunteers to participate in the program. The training includes simple frog and toad call information as well as a large amount of resources to get you on your way. Once a training session is complete, you will be able to access the FrogWatch USA database online and upload observations on your own.If this is something that interests you or your family, the Zoo is hosting a free FrogWatch USA volunteer training session on March 4th at 10 a.m. The training session is open to all ages however, the material is most beneficial for adults and children in middle school or older. Zoo admission is not required.In addition to the training and learning materials, the session will include a walk down to an area of the Zoo that we’ll be observing all summer for a “mock observation”. FrogWatch USA is a very beneficial and easy study to participate in, as well as a great local message for our Rochester amphibians. Join us in frog and toad conservation at Seneca Park Zoo!– Dave Will, Lead Interpreter for Citizen Science

A partnership to protect polar bears

February 4, 2018

What do the Amerks and polar bears have in common? They both depend on ice! While the former requires ice to play a hockey game, the latter requires ice for survival. Rapidly increasing rates of receding sea ice in the Arctic pose a serious threat to polar bears and their ability to hunt their main prey, seals. In response, the Amerks and Seneca Park Zoo Society have teamed up for Defend the Ice Month. The entire month of February is dedicated to raising awareness of polar bear conservation and highlighting how the community can help make a difference.Ice is so important to polar bears because it provides the platform on which to hunt seals. Just like humans, seals are air-breathing mammals that must resurface eventually while swimming. Polar bears are well aware of this, and will wait hours by a breathing hole, which is essentially an opening in the ice, until a seal pops up for a breath of air. Seals contain large stores of fatty blubber essential for sustaining polar bears through the long and brutal Arctic winters. However, increasing atmospheric temperatures are causing sea ice to melt at an unprecedented rate, leaving behind fewer breathing holes and hence fewer opportunities for polar bears to hunt. With less fatty nourishment from seals, polar bear populations have declined sharply in recent years.Although the future of polar bears in a changing Arctic may seem bleak, there are many ways you can help at home, at the Zoo, or even at a hockey game. Simple actions to reduce one’s carbon footprint, such as turning down the thermostat a couple degrees during the colder months and consuming less meat, helps to depress increasing atmospheric temperatures – the main culprit behind receding sea ice. In addition, the Amerks and Zoo Society have partnered up to provide exciting new – and fun – ways to help this February as part of Defend the Ice Month.At the Zoo, guests can help by joining us during Polar Bear Awareness Weekend from February 24-25. Along with interpreted enrichment demos with the Zoo’s polar bear Aurora, interactive games, and BioFact stations highlighting the polar bear’s unique adaptations, guests will have the opportunity to enjoy a special meet and greet with Amerks players on Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Guests will also have the chance to enter multiple drawings on Sunday for signed Amerks merchandise and a behind-the-scenes tour of Rocky Coasts with the Amerks players. All proceeds will go towards Polar Bears International (PBI), a conservation partner of the Zoo and nonprofit organization working towards a better future for polar bears through research, education, and community programs.Hockey fans can also support PBI by attending any Amerks home game during the month of February. On February 2, 16, and 18, the ZooMobile will be at Blue Cross Arena with live animals and BioFacts. On February 23, join us for “Defend the Ice Night” where there will be an auction to win a custom game jersey worn by Amerks players that night! All proceeds will go to the Seneca Park Zoo Society and Polar Bears International. Rochester may appear worlds away from the Arctic, yet there are so many ways we can help locally to promote a better future for Aurora’s counterparts in their natural ranges.– Karen Wu, Lead Interpreter

Did you know? African elephant edition

September 14, 2017

Elephant Day returns to Seneca Park Zoo this Saturday, September 16th, and we’re gearing up for the event by sharing some fun facts about African elephants and the four that call the Zoo home.

On Saturday, guests will have the opportunity to see the elephants receive special enrichment items, get a bath or health check, go through a training session, and even participate in a watermelon eating contest against younger Zoo visitors! Learn about each individual elephant at the Zoo, and chat with our dedicated keepers to find out how they are cared for. We hope that when you leave, you will have a greater appreciation for all elephants and be inspired to act on behalf of their conservation.Did you know…• Seneca Park Zoo is the only zoo in New York to have African elephants – their names are Moki, Chana, Genny C and Lilac.

• All of the elephants respond to, and understand, over 50 verbal commands.

• Elephants can sleep standing up or lying down. An elephant is napping if they have their trunks resting on the ground and their eyes closed. Elephants do need to lay down to sleep and to take that enormous amount of weight off their legs. They will lie down at night.

• Elephants communicate through smells, touch, body posture, and sounds, some that we can’t even hear. They can detect vibrations from other elephants nearby through their feet. As you observe the elephants, notice how often they touch each other with their trunks.

• With four elephants, the exhibit is always active. If you watch each elephant closely, you will notice each displays unique body language, whether raising their head or flaring their ears.

• The elephants’ favorite foods are watermelons, pumpkins, and bagels!MokiBorn in Zimbabwe in 1982
Came to Seneca Park Zoo in 2015
Weight: 8,802 lbs.

• Moki is a thinker and a problem solver during training sessions.
• She thrives on routine.
• She enjoys swimming in the pool and sometimes even brings a tire in with her!ChanaBorn in Zimbabwe in 1982
Came to Seneca Park Zoo in 2015
Weight: 8,952 lbs.

• Chana enjoys watching the world go by.
• She is a sweet, laid-back elephant who is never in rush.
• She likes to let out trumpets when greeting the other elephants.Genny CBorn in South Africa in 1977
Came to Seneca Park Zoo in 1979
Weight: 8,302 lbs

• Genny C is a very animated elephant. She will shake her head or body to get her handlers’ attention, and she can be quite goofy. She loves her training sessions and food.
• She always has something to say, so guests will often hear her make some sort of noise.LilacBorn in South Africa in 1978
Came to Seneca Park Zoo in 1979
Weight: 7,242 lbs.

• Lilac is an energetic elephant that loves to play. She’ll even stir up the other elephants to get them to play with her.
• She really enjoys touching her handlers with her trunk.

Animal enrichment and how you can help

August 28, 2017Enriching the lives of the animals at Seneca Park Zoo is a key focus of keeper staff here at the Zoo. It is a crucial part of our day to make sure that all the animals in our care are stimulated and encouraged to interact with their environment. Enrichment can be anything that the animal experiences that is out of the normal daily routine. It can provide them with a new scent, a new object to investigate, or an opportunity to engage in their natural behaviors.

For example, orangutans are forage feeders, so they spend their days searching around for food to eat in their natural range. By giving the orangutans at the Zoo different food items that they have to search for, we encourage them to exhibit the natural behavior of foraging. Similarly, hiding food treats for the tigers encourages them to sniff out their food. We offer new enrichment items to our animals daily and try to challenge them every day.Seneca Park Zoo animal care staff are very excited to share the search for new enrichment items with all of the Zoo’s guests! With Animal Enrichment Weekend set for September 2-4, we are giving all of you an opportunity to help us provide enrichment to your favorite animals. Any guest that brings in an animal enrichment item from our wishlist will receive $2 OFF for each person in their group. There will also be an enrichment line hung in the Zoo that will be loaded with tags, each bearing an animal’s name and an item that would make a great enrichment piece. If you are interested in giving an animal an item, take a tag and return to the Zoo with the item listed!

Our animals love having new enrichment items to explore, and we are looking forward to a weekend of exploration and fun!– Robin English, Vet TechnicianView Enrichment Wishlist

“I am just a small thing. What can I do?”

This morning while I was running my negative self-talk said, “You are going to embarrass yourself at Jungle Jog. You’re going to be slow. You’re going to have to walk parts of it. You won’t be happy with your finish time.”

And then I thought, No. All of that is true EXCEPT the part about embarrassing myself. I’m up. I’m off the couch. I’m out there, wanting to make a difference for me, and for conservation. The people who should be embarrassed are the ones not even cheering me at the sidelines, but sitting at home, waiting for someone else to take action.

I’ve been privileged to spend time with Malagasy researcher Mahandry Hugues Andrianarisoa this month. We first met Mahandry a year ago when he was a research student assigned to our One Cubic Foot project team in Madagascar. We have had many serious conversations about the future of conservation in Madagascar, and his role in it.

When we picked up Mahandry in Washington D.C. last month, where he had been interning at the Smithsonian Institution, we sat on the front steps of our friend’s home and he said to me, “I am a small thing. And the problems are so big. What can I do?”

Isn’t that the exact question we should all be asking ourselves? What can WE do? The environmentalist Edward Abbey said, “The antidote to despair is action.” The problems are overwhelming, but if we determine a goal, a path we can take to make even a small difference, we have to take that action and begin to be a part of the solution. We cannot sit back and hope someone else is moved to action, or hope the problem solves itself.Mahandry is beginning to focus his path on reforestation in Madagascar. More than 90% of Madagascar is deforested, and Mahandry has been astounded by the vast forests we have all around us in New York. Last night, at dinner with Mahandry and another colleague, he asked us, “Do you think it is possible to bring back the forests in Madagascar?”

The answer, of course, is yes. But it takes action, and garnering support, and patience, and even the knowledge that you might not live long enough to see the results of your efforts. The magnificent tree stands along the road in Letchworth State Park were planted in 1912. That reforestation effort took foresight and action.

What does all of this have to do with running or walking a 5k? Nothing, and everything. I have found running to be a metaphor for achieving any goal. You must first have the goal in mind, and then you have to carve out the plan that will take you to that goal, and set the foundation in place to be successful. And then you have to act. You will encounter obstacles and pain along the way, but as you get closer to that goal, the sense of accomplishment is like no other.

So – one last plea for you to join me on Sunday, July 16, for the Jungle Jog 5K and Conservation Walk. Run, walk, or cheer me on at the finish line. Consider this your first step toward making a difference for yourself, and making a difference for conservation in Madagascar. You can also support lemur conservation through my Crowdrise fundraiser.— Pamela Reed Sanchez, Seneca Park Zoo Society Executive DirectorREGISTER

If you can’t run or walk with me, maybe you can at least support my efforts

This isn’t easy, this striving to be fit enough to run or walk a 5K.

And some days it seems impossibly hard.

This morning I hit the snooze button five times and decided I would benefit more from sleep than running.  And then I remembered that the Jungle Jog 5k and Conservation Walk is in less than three weeks, and I’m far from being ready to run a 5k, and I do NOT want to fail.

So, I dragged myself out of bed, threw on the running gear, and stepped outside into a beautiful clear morning.  My foot hurt a bit – I’ve been on hiatus due to a stress fracture in my right foot – but the more I ran, the better my foot felt.

And I was reminded, again, that training for an athletic endeavor is a metaphor for life.  Or, a metaphor for what it takes to conserve wildlife and wild places.

It is hard work.  It is work that we sometimes don’t want to do.  It can make us uncomfortable.  It involves sacrifice.  It requires us to remove the physical and mental barriers we face to pursue our goal.  It is a commitment to a better way of being, and requires a lifestyle change that can make us want to close our eyes and go back to sleep.

One of my role models, Andy Stern, has a bumper sticker that says, “Don’t buy anything new.”  That is a message about what it takes to live more sustainably, keep things out of landfills, and cut down on the consumerism that is leading to exploiting natural resources to an unsupportable level.  The message is simple.  Committing to that behavior:  decidedly not simple, until you try it.

Ninety percent of Madagascar is deforested, meaning that the once plentiful habitat for more than one hundred species of lemurs is nearly gone.  When my friend Mahandry arrived earlier this summer from Madagascar, one of the first things he said was “There are so many trees here!”  In Madagascar, the trees have been removed to use the lumber for building and for fuel, and to convert the land into rice paddies so people can feed their families.  All 103 species of lemurs are considered endangered.

It’s going to take work to save lemurs, along with the wealth of biodiversity that is endemic to Madagascar.  Just as it has taken work to bring the Genesee River back to life after years of unfettered use by industry and agriculture.  Just as it takes work to get and stay healthy.

I’m a long way from where I was a couple years ago, healthwise.  But I can start, today, getting healthy again to work my way back to being strong enough to run a 5K, and then train for longer distances.

I’ve asked you to consider joining me in committing to getting fit, and to come out to walk or run the Jungle Jog 5K and Conservation Walk.

But if you can’t do that, this year, there is still something you can do: support our efforts to raise funds for lemur conservation.  Several of our docents, along with me, are raising funds through Crowdrise; my personal goal is to raise $500.

There’s also still time to register for the Jungle Jog, and there’s even still time to train for it – at least to walk it.  Every step is a start in the right direction.  Walk, run, or donate.  It all matters.— Pamela Reed Sanchez, Seneca Park Zoo Society Executive DirectorREGISTER