Vote Seneca Park Zoo for Top Place to Take Kids in Rochester!

Help your Zoo win the top spot for this year’s Top 20 Places to Take Kids in Rochester here. has been online since 2001 and has been families go-to resource for staying in the know of local kid-friendly events/happenings ever since. We would be so very appreciative if you could take just a couple minutes to vote for us and help us achieve our goal of claiming the top spot for this year. From all the amazing animals you can see here to the events and programming we have throughout the year there is always something to see or do here at the Zoo!Vote Now!

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

Upcoming Zoo Camps for Kids on Break!

January 22, 2020

We know how hard the past year has been for so many and one of the most difficult things to deal with has been the lack of social interaction and involvement, especially for kids. We have just the thing! ZooCamp at Seneca Park Zoo immerses kids in wildlife, the environment, and the need to protect and care for both, all in a unique setting: the Zoo! Campers explore nature and animals, create projects, share ideas, and make new friends.For our upcoming Winter Break ZooCamp we have a really exciting ‘Around the World’ theme so each day will focus on a different continent or continents and the animals that live there.  Campers will learn and be tasked with activities like sorting out what animal is found in what part of the world. If the intersection of animals, maps and geography are things that your little will be interested, you won’t want to miss out on this camp!

Looking a little further down the calendar we have our Spring Break ZooCamp March 29 – Friday, April 2. Spring Break ZooCamp is Big Cat Habitat themed this year so each day is focused on a habitat and the campers figure out which cat lives there.  This camp has many different cat crafts, habitat learning activities and more! Rumor has it there may even be some ‘animal yoga’ and leap like a lion activities to get some exercise and maybe even go on a journey with the ever-popular Freddie the Fish!We have implemented safety protocols for ZooCamps, including universal face coverings.  Read more about our COVID safety precautions and register for a camp today!Learn More

The Unexpected Joys of a Winter Visit to the Zoo

December 31, 2020

As the temperature drops and the snow flurries begin, many people forget the Zoo as a safe and fun outdoor destination.   Winter is a great time to visit Seneca Park Zoo, and the experience can be quite different than that on a warm busy summer day!

Winter Zoo visits can be quite peaceful.   There are typically few people here, so the hub bub of kids laughing and crowds meandering is replaced with quiet.  There’s a stillness in the air.  But there is still plenty to see and do.  Here are some suggestions on making the most of your winter visit.A must-see on a winter visit is the animals of cold Asia. The snow leopards and red pandas, in particular, are quite active when it’s cold outside.  This winter, keepers will be reintroducing snow leopard Timila and Kaba for breeding season, so you could have the opportunity to see them together.  Additionally, if you haven’t seen red panda Willie, you’ll love spending some time watching him and Starlight as they enjoy the cold air.   The wolves and tiger are also typically quite active!

Another good stop on your winter visit is the baboon habitat.  It has recently been completely reconfigured (link) and the baboons are having a ball! The baboon habitat has a covered area where you can get out of the wind or snow as well.

Keep heading into Animals of the Savanna to meet the Zoo’s newest resident, white rhino Jiwe’.  Whether Jiwe’ is inside or outside, he’s fun to observe as well.  As a juvenile, Jiwe’ can be playful and curious.

With the smaller crowds, a winter visit is a great time to spend some time at the aviary in the Animals of the Savanna building.   See how many species you can count.  Marvel at the variation in the songs of the different birds.  Admire the setting, which was all hand painted by artisans.

Another great winter stop is the Rocky Coasts Gallery, which can provide a quiet warm-up spot.   Take a seat on one of the benches and be mesmerized by the graceful California sea lions swimming back and forth.  Watch the videos in the gallery which provide interesting background about polar bears and sea lions from our conservation partners.  And be sure to spend some time at the reef tank.  See how many species of corals and fish you can find.  The signs in that area can help you learn more about coral in particular.A winter visit is a great time to read some of the interpretive signage throughout the Zoo.  You’ll be surprised about how much you can learn!  The “Why Save This Species” signs are fairly new and particularly interesting. You’ll find them by snow leopards, eagles, giraffes, and more!

Another great warm up spot is the ECO center.  North American River otter Ashkii is usually swimming in the pool visible from inside.  Have you ever seen a hellbender?  These elusive amphibians camouflage in their habitat.  But with a bit of time and observation, you can usually find them!

A great way to end your visit is a hot lunch special from Eagle’s Landing.  Every day there is a home-made soup, and a lunch special. Ask at the counter or better yet, pre-order your meal here (specials are listed at the top) and it will be ready for you when you schedule it.  The pavilion is heated and provides a comfortable, sheltered spot to enjoy your meal.

As you head out, you can take one last warm up stop at the ZooShop.  Be sure to check out the “Live Sustainably at Home” section.   There are many great items for yourself or for gifts!

Give a winter Zoo visit a try!  We are open 362 days a year.  Be sure to get your timed tickets in advance, and please – fill out the survey you’ll receive after your visit.  We love to get your feedback.

*Banner photo by Elesa Kim

Sensory Inclusion Certification: It’s all about breaking down barriers to equitable access for all

October 14, 2020

At Seneca Park Zoo, we want every member of our community to feel they are welcome from the moment they arrive – or even before, when visiting our website.

We all know someone who is on the autism spectrum.  We likely all know someone who suffers from PTSD.  And some of us care for people with sensory issues as a result of a stroke, or dementia.    We might think a day at the Zoo would be a perfect outing, because we know it to be a place where our blood pressure falls, our breathing evens, and we feel a sense of calm as we encounter nature.But for the one in six members of our community that have sensory issues, the Zoo can be an overwhelming and overstimulating experience – one that can lead to frustration and even fear as they struggle to make sense of the sights and sounds and smells.  For people with sensory issues, it isn’t just that being in crowds makes them uncomfortable, or that loud sounds are jarring, or bright lights annoying.  Rather, these things can make it difficult to make sense of the world.

To make the Zoo accessible for this large segment of the population, we had to look at these obstacles and find ways to ameliorate them.  For us, and a growing number of zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the answer was becoming certified as Sensory Inclusive by KultureCity.

KultureCity has trained all our team members and much of our volunteer corps.  They’ve provided sensory kits that include noise-cancelling headphones and verbal cue cards families can borrow when visiting.  They’ve helped us identify places on site where our guests might want to use those headphones, and other places where a family that needs a bit of a time out can pull off the path and rest for a bit.  They’ve helped us with providing social stories on our website, and they’ve added us to their app (Apple Store / Google Play ).

Perhaps Gretchen Spencer, who works on our education team, sums it up best: “As a mom of a son with sensory sensitivities, knowing that the Zoo is sensory inclusion certified makes me feel like my family is welcome here.  As an educator, I feel proud that this is a safe place to bring all students.”We know there are other barriers to inclusion, and that become sensory inclusion certified is just one step among many we need to take.  But it’s an important step, and one we are proud to have made, in service to our community.

-Pamela Reed Sanchez, President & CEO Seneca Park Zoo Society


* Guests who would like to take a sensory bag on loan for their visit can do so at the ZooShop.

The Urban Ecology Program Grows and Evolves

September 2020

They said, ”Do you want to be an urban ecologist?”

I said, “Sure, I’ll be an Urban Ecologist.” 

Naaman and I were discussing how he didn’t know at the time that this decision would lead to a morning deep in the Genesee river gorge on a path that offered little room to move between the flowing water on his left and layered stone cliffs to his right.As the Urban Ecologist program manager I think I can safely say that most of the 15 Urban Ecologists we hired this summer weren’t really sure what they are getting themselves into. Each one applied through the City of Rochester’s Summer of Opportunity program with the hope of getting some real life work experience. Luckily this diverse group of high school students were willing to take a chance on a job that was explained as an opportunity to spend the next two years developing their future readiness, studying their relationship to the urban environment, engaging the community in nature-based activities, and working to improve the natural environment through stewardship projects. This adventurous spirit has led to a team of young people who are confidently and courageously facing the particularly challenging set of circumstances we find ourselves in this summer. 

As we considered how to run a program that kept our young people and the community safe and healthy, we saw online work as an opportunity we could take advantage of, but early conversations with our senior urban ecologists provided motivation for figuring out how to provide in-person work as well. They had spent the spring in their homes and they emphatically expressed a desire to get out in nature.  There is plenty of research to back up the idea that getting out would be good for their social, emotional, and physical health. Fortunately the outdoor work embedded in this program lends itself well to a work environment that is well ventilated with space to spread out. We have been able to create a hybrid program that provides both in person and online learning.We have used our time online and at home for a variety of experiences. We worked with an expert to take a financial literacy course. We had a video conference call with an EPA attorney in Baltimore and an expert in environmental justice education in Buffalo. We have had workshops to dissect our sense of place by considering what an urban ecosystem is and how we map our world.  We have read “The Home Place” by J. Drew Lanham and have worked on self-designed community engagement projects.Our in-person work has benefited from the fact that the Urban Ecologists have taken to heart the idea that their attention to health and safety makes a greater impact possible.  With daily health checks, masks on and six feet between each other breaths of fresh air fills our lungs, dialogue about the state of the world fills our ears and gardening soil fills our hands. We have spent several mornings tending community food gardens. We now have a deeper connection to the neighbors who benefit from the freely available fresh food and the pollinators who make that food possible. Removing invasive species in an urban forest has connected us to the ecosystems that bring people in the city peace. Sharing photo stories of Seneca Park connects us to the land in our city and the community of people telling their stories on instagram.

The Urban Ecologists sometimes ask me about getting paid for activities that hardly seem like work like hiking and reading. I tell them it is some of the most important work that can be done right now. Connecting to our environment and each other is necessary in a way it has never been before. I tell them they have a responsibility to share that connection with others. Finding a path through the urban wilderness on foot is just one of the ways they are preparing to lead our communities down an uncertain path. The skills, knowledge, and relationships they are building today will create the hopeful tomorrow we need.

Chris Widmaier, Seneca Park Zoo Society Urban Ecology Program Manager

*Banner photo by Chris Widmaier

The Seneca Park Zoo Society Urban Ecology Workplace Development Program began 2017 in response to the lack of diversity in the field of conservation.  Now conducted in partnership with the City of Rochester Summer of Opportunity program, participants connect with nature, learn important life skills, and make an impact on their communities. Follow @rocurbanecologists on Instagram.

COVID-19 and Animals

July 6, 2020

Since the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 emerged in December 2019, scientists and veterinarians have struggled to understand its relationship to animals.Most scientists now agree that the virus originated in bats, and probably passed through another species before infecting the first humans. Diseases that spread from animals to people are called zoonotic, and they are actually a lot more common than you think. Rabies, Ebola, and lyme disease are common examples, and more than 3 out of 4 emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. Zoonotic diseases make this jump whenever humans are in close proximity to animals. As human populations grow and expand, and climate change forces animals to adapt, the possibility of new diseases is greater than ever.

Initially, scientists thought animals would not be susceptible to infection from humans. That all changed when two dogs and a cat in Hong Kong, living with humans infected with the virus tested positive. Since then, fewer than 20 pets have tested positive globally, all in homes with infected humans. With over ten million cases in people, this means that pets are at least somewhat resistant, and there is no evidence that pets play any role in transmission of the virus.

Based on laboratory studies, we also know that ferrets, Syrian hamsters, and cats may serve as “animal models” of human infection. This means that they potentially can become infected and transmit the virus to one another, as occurs in people. This is important because these animal models may be critical to understanding the virus and developing treatments and vaccines. At the Zoo, we assumed that primates, closely related to humans, would be susceptible, as they are to many human diseases including the common cold and the flu.Since ferrets had already proven to be susceptible, we had also assumed that otters and red pandas may be similarly susceptible as they are genetically related. When a tiger, and later lions, at the Bronx Zoo became infected by an asymptomatic zookeeper in early April, it changed everything, and required us to implement the same safeguards that have been implemented to prevent spread between people – universal face coverings for staff working near the animals, a smaller social bubble through limiting staff involved with each animal, and physical distancing whenever possible. Outbreaks at mink farms in Europe in April and May, presumably initiated by infected caregivers, have also shown us that some animals are susceptible to the virus and can transmit it, highlighting our need to remain vigilant about the precautions for the animals and the staff.

So, those are the animals that we consider at highest risk based on infections in those species or in their close relatives. It appears, though, that all mammals may have some risk of COVID-19, and as in people, there are still many more questions than answers. While we have phased some of our safeguards out, similar to the phased re-opening, many are here to stay as we create a new “normal” behind the scenes at the Zoo until we understand more about this virus. The key to keeping our animals healthy is, as it always has been, keeping our community and staff healthy. That’s why your participation in the public health activities like wearing face coverings and physically distancing are so important. We are excited to welcome you back, safely. We can’t wait to see you, and your cool animal mask, at your next Zoo visit!

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

*Banner photo by Wayne Smith

Snow leopard cubs born at the Zoo

On Monday, May 27, 2019 Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo & Seneca Park Zoo officials announced that snow leopard Timila gave birth to cubs.

Official statement:

“As a first-time mom, Timila was a bit unsure and delivered one cub in her outdoor habitat and one cub in her maternity den. Timila appears to be caring for the cub that is with her indoors. The other cub, a male who was born in the outdoor habitat, was retrieved by Animal Care staff and brought to the Zoo’s on-site animal hospital. While he appears strong and healthy, this cub will face a difficult road ahead. Over the next few days, Animal Care staff will attempt to return this cub to Timila. In the meantime, Timila will remain in her off-exhibit maternity den with the other cub. Animal Care staff will be monitoring Timila and her cubs closely and we will continue to keep the public updated on their progress.”

Check out the local news coverage below.

WXXI: Two snow leopard cubs born at Seneca Park Zoo

WHAM: Seneca Park Zoo celebrates two new additions

WHEC: Snow leopard gives birth at Seneca Park Zoo

WROC: Seneca Park Zoo welcomes two new Snow Leopard cubs

Democrat & Chronicle:  Zoo’s new snow leopard cubs could go on exhibit in 12 weeks // Update: Snow leopard cub is back in mom’s care



June 1, 2019 – Dinolfo announces both cubs are male.

“More exciting news out of our Seneca Park Zoo on this #Caturday! Both newly born snow leopard cubs are male! Our new mom, Timila, is taking care of them very well and both are in excellent health. Stay tuned for more updates about our adorable new additions at the Zoo!”

June 5, 2019 – Zoo announces one male cub has died.

“We have sad news to report regarding the two male snow leopard cubs born to first-time mother Timila at Seneca Park Zoo on Monday, May 27th. The one cub, which required assistance from Animal Care staff immediately after birth but was returned to his mother on the following day, has died.” Click here to read the full statement.

July 9, 2019 – Our snow leopard cub is growing!

Born on May 27th, he is now six weeks old. He surpassed 5 lbs., his teeth have come in, and he received his first set of vaccines! Timila is a great mom and is allowing Animal Health staff to provide necessary supportive care to help make sure the cub continues doing well. Both mom and cub continue to den in the off-exhibit area of the Zoo’s snow leopard habitat. If all continues to go well, we expect them to emerge into the outdoor habitat and be viewable to the public in late-August or early-September!

Polar bear Anoki artificially inseminated

March 25. 2019

On Friday, March 22, Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo & Seneca Park Zoo officials announced that the Zoo partnered with the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) to participate in the development of assisted reproductive technologies by artificially inseminating Anoki, the Zoo’s 22-year-old female polar bear.

Seneca Park Zoo has a history of working with CREW on polar bear reproduction. Aurora, the Zoo’s prior polar bear and Anoki’s mother (through natural conception) was the first polar bear ever to undergo an AI procedure in 2012. This is the third attempt of artificial insemination with Anoki. The first two procedures were conducted when Anoki lived at the Maryland Zoo. CREW has attempted artificial insemination on seven bears since 2012.

VideoPress ReleaseCheck out the local news coverage below.

WXXI: Seneca Park Zoo polar bear part of a conservation project 

WHAM: New technology used to artificially inseminate Seneca Park Zoo polar bear

WHEC: Could a polar bear cub be coming to the Seneca Park Zoo?

WROC: Polar bear numbers in US zoos plunging

Democrat & Chronicle: Seneca Park Zoo’s polar bear, Anoki, artificially inseminated

Rochester Business Journal: Zoo tries to impregnate polar bear

Parker’s Excellent Adventure

January 2, 2019

Question: How do you transport a giraffe cross-country?
Answer: Very carefully!

In late October, a team of four from Seneca Park Zoo traveled to Santa Barbara Zoo to help bring Parker, a two-year old male Masai giraffe to his new home. I was very proud to join my colleagues, Assistant Zoo Director Dr. Louis DiVincenti, Assistant Director of Parks Lisa Nicolay, and Assistant Curator for Hoofstock Lindsay Brinda, on this excellent adventure.We flew to Los Angeles, rented an SUV and headed up the coast to Santa Barbara. The zoo has a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean and the grounds were outstanding. Good thing Parker didn’t know that he would soon be headed for the snow-belt, right? He might not want to go with us, right? Well, it was almost as if someone had tipped him off.

On the morning of October 25th, our team met up at Santa Barbara Zoo with a crew of three from International Animal Exchange, hired by Monroe County to transport the giraffe in a specialized trailer with a low floor and a tall roof, hauled by a pick-up truck. With the trailer in position at the giraffe habitat, the Santa Barbara Zoo’s Hoofstock Team took over. They tried their best to encourage and entice Parker to get on the trailer, but he just wasn’t interested. After waiting him out all morning and afternoon, we called it a day around 4 p.m. We decided it would be best to try again in the morning.Most of the next day, October 26th, went about as well as the day before! Over and over, Parker approached the trailer, peered in with the curious stare of a giraffe, but didn’t take the next step of getting on. After a second day of playing the “waiting game” all day, Parker finally decided to step onto the trailer! He was calm and showed no signs of stress as the staff who cared for him since birth said their goodbyes. At 5 p.m., we were finally on the road and headed south toward Los Angeles on US Highway 101. It was a slow go at first with combined rush-hour and weekend traffic congestion, but we made it to Interstate Route 10 and were “East Bound and Down,” just like the song.

Along the way to Rochester, our two-vehicle convoy pulled off the Interstate every few hours at gas stations and truck stops to check on Parker, replenish his food and water, and ensure he was remaining calm (which he did throughout the trip). These stops also provided us humans on the journey an opportunity to fuel-up the vehicles, get food, visit the restroom, and change drivers.At about 13 feet in height, Parker was able to stand straight in the trailer.  He was comfortable enough that he laid down on occasion along the way, which was an excellent sign that our passenger was doing just fine.

We drove straight-through, traveling from California through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to New York.  It was a journey that none of us would soon forget, with many beautiful landscapes and very interesting people along the way.

In the early morning hours of October 29th, after 58 hours on the road over the course of four days, and a last minute detour to avoid the notoriously low clearance railroad bridge on St. Paul, we pulled into Seneca Park. We made it and Parker had arrived at the new Animals of the Savannah expansion at Seneca Park Zoo! He was greeted by Animal Care staff and, of course, our two one-year old female giraffes Kipenzi and Iggy. Parker has quickly acclimated to his new habitat, companions, and caretakers.

Be sure to visit Parker, along with Kipenzi, Iggy and our plains zebras, Lydia, Liberty, and Dottie, at the new Animals of the Savanna expansion. The Zoo is open year-round!

– Larry Staub, Zoo Director