Celebrate African Elephant Moki Turning 41 and Learn About This Amazing Species From Her Keepers!

July 15, 2023

This summer is a little sweeter knowing that Moki is turning 41 years old! She is past the average life expectancy of female African elephants, which is 38.5. Moki is always eager to participate in training sessions, unless she’s sleeping in the sun. 


An elephant’s truck is an amazing adaptation that allows them to do remarkable things. An elephant’s trunk has more muscles in it than an entire human body does. It can function as a hand, nose, an extra foot, a signaling device, tool, siphoning water, digging, dusting, you name it! Moki is a great ambassador animal that is always highlighting this iconic characteristic. 

When Moki swims in the pool, you can see her using her trunk as a snorkel. You also may see her picking up large tree trunks or gently picking blades of grass to eat. An elephant’s trunk can also hold up to 2.5 gallons of water. African elephants have two “fingers” at the end of their trunk while Asian elephants only have one. Even though baby elephants can stand quickly after birth, they have to learn how to use their trunk. 

During your next visit, be sure to wish Moki a very happy birthday. She will be the one reaching the furthest for the food!

– Zoologist Kat Kleinschmidt 

Veterinary Care for the Birds

Working with birds is fun, but does have challenges as well! Here at the Zoo we have many different birds in our care. In our education building, which is not open to the public, we have psittacine birds (parrots). These birds partake in education programs and the Zoomobile. We have raptors (birds of prey), which includes the snowy owls and red-tailed hawk. The Savanna Aviary contains spotted dikkops (a shore bird), sandhill cranes, and multiple species of passerines (perching birds/song birds). Of course, we also have African penguins in the Rocky Coast area too!

Birds have many unique adaptations. They all have feathers which serve as insulation, aid in flight (or swimming for the penguins), and can serve as signals to other birds. Birds go through molt, which is when they lose old feathers and grow new ones. Some birds do this gradually, but some birds molt all their feathers at once. African penguins are a species that molts all at once so you may see some of them looking quite bald like little vultures. These birds are not sick, they are just molting their feathers! When new feathers first grow in, they are connected to blood vessels and are called a “blood feather.” Once the feather is fully grown, it loses the blood supply. However, if a feather breaks while it still has a blood supply it can bleed a large amount. When this occurs, we need to remove the feather to stop the bleeding. This can happen to pet birds too and is one of the most common pet bird emergencies.


Most birds also have hollow bones to reduce their weight for flight. Penguins and other flightless birds are an exception to this and have solid bones like us. Birds do not have a diaphragm, the muscle that separates the chest and abdomen in mammals. They do have air sacs which help to increase airflow through the respiratory system and keep a higher oxygen flow into the body.

It is important for our safety and the safety of the birds to be aware of how a bird might act when we handle them for veterinary procedures. For long procedures, we will anesthetize the birds. This reduces the risk of them injuring us and reduces that risk that they injure themselves trying to escape. Most birds first instinct when we restrain them for an exam, nail trim, or to draw blood is to flap their wings to try to get away. This can cause injury to the wings so we cover their wings with a light towel. Parrots might try to bite while raptors will try to use their talons for defense. 

All of the birds that go outside receive a vaccine for West Nile Virus. This virus is spread by mosquitos and can cause neurological disease in many different animal species. Penguins are also prone to another mosquito borne disease called avian malaria. This is a parasite that only infects birds. This disease was very rare in the northern US, but is becoming more common because climate change is leading to longer mosquito seasons and different species of mosquitos moving further north. To protect them, the penguins receive a preventative medication during mosquito season.

The highly efficient respiratory tracts of birds make them prone to respiratory infections. One that has been in the news lately is avian influenza. The Zoo has a plan in place to help protect our birds from this virus. This plan was developed through discussions with veterinary teams at other zoos and the NY state veterinarian. They can also get a fungal infection called Aspergillosis. This is a fungus that exists in the soil and can infect birds when they are stressed or ill with another disease.

Birds hide signs of illness very well because in the wild, if they show signs of weakness, they become a target for predators. Because of this adaptation, we regularly evaluate all of our birds.  They receive an overall annual checkup and the keepers give daily reports on anything abnormal so that we know if a bird needs additional exams or tests such as blood work or x-rays. The bird’s weights are also monitored.  If a bird does need any tests performed, we bring them to the Animal Hospital. X-rays allow us to not only see the bones but also the outline of the heart, liver, and other internal organs. Some diseases will cause enlargement of organs which we can see on the x-rays. The blood allows us to check the red and white blood cells along with enzymes that show liver and kidney health, protein levels, and electrolytes. 

Stop by and visit with the man species of birds in our care this weekend and all throughout the year! 

– Dr. Chris McKinney (DVM / Zoo Veterinarian) 

Keeper Connection: Sea Lion Rehab and the Seneca Park Zoo

Here at Seneca Park Zoo, we are home to four California sea lions. We have three females and one male. Lily, Mary Lou, Daley, and Bob are all special, but Lily has a very interesting story about how she came to live at Seneca Park Zoo. Assistant Curator Kellee Wolowitz shared that story with us below.

Lily was captured on a boat float in Marina Del Rey Harbor, Los Angeles County, on December 4, 2009. She was suffering from emaciation and had an abscess on her front right flipper. While the abscess was treated and did heal, she lost her ability to flex her flipper and walks with a permanent limp. 
Due to this injury, it was determined she could not be released back into nature. Once she was medically cleared, Lily was brought to Seneca Park Zoo from Fort MacArthur Marine Mammal Center in San Pedro, California on January 25, 2011. That might seem like it was a very long trip, but she was flown on a plane and was accompanied by zoo staff that monitored her very closely. 
Since her arrival, she has thrived and has given birth twice. Her son Bob, currently lives here at the Zoo and was born on June 7, 2017. He can often be heard vocalizing throughout the Zoo! 
Lily is a laid back sea lion, and knows many different behaviors. Many of these behaviors allow us to preform medical examinations with little to no stress. Lily receives voluntary hand injections of her vaccines, rolls over so we can look at her belly, and opens her mouth so we can look at her teeth, presents both her flippers, and can lay flat. She even lets us give her eye drops. We also do some fun behaviors that allow her to exhibit natural behaviors and is also enriching for her. 

Unfortunately California sea lions like Lily face many obstacles in nature. Their natural predators are sharks and orcas, or killer whales, but that is not the worst of it. They are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes it illegal to harm them, but they are still killed or injured by fisherman who see them as a threat or competition to their livelihood. 

Entanglement in, and ingestions of, plastics in the ocean, malnutrition due to overfishing, infections, parasites, and harmful algal blooms, are other threats. If you want to help sea lions, you can do so by eating fish recommended by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program, reduce toxins you use on your lawn and gardens, reduce trash by avoiding single use plastics, and dispose of fishing lines and lures properly. 

Lily is a success story, thanks to the Marine Mammal Center and Seneca Park Zoo, so let do our part to make sure all California sea lions are able to live in a clean, healthy environment! 


– Assistant Curator Kellee Wolowitz


Keeper Connection: Opportunities, Barriers, and Suggestions for Orangutan Rehabilitation and Re-Introduction Centers in Indonesia.

In the fall of 2017 I visited Indonesia to expand on my Masters of Science theses titled Implementing Best Practice Guidelines: Opportunities, Barriers, and Suggestions for Orangutan Rehabilitation and Re-Introduction Centers in Indonesia.

While in Indonesia I visited three primate rehabilitation and re-introduction centers: The Aspinall Foundation in Java, Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program in Sumatra, and International Animal Rescue in Kalimantan, Borneo. 
The Aspinall Foundation rehabilitates and re-introduces Javan gibbons to the wild, langurs and various other primate species that may be surrendered or rescued. International Animal Rescue focuses mainly on Bornean Orangutan re-habilitation and re-introduction into the wild. The primate species within these centers are victims of mass habitat deforestation for agriculture or the wild primate pet trade. 
My main focus was to determine whether the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Best Practice Guidelines for the Re-Introduction of Great Apes was in need of an updated version since it was first published in 2007. Orangutan and other Indonesian primate rehabilitation centers have seen a dramatic increase in number of orangutans in need due to the continued deforestation of their habitats in order to grow palm oil. Because of the increase of individuals and the decrease of wild habitat to re-introduce them into, the practices that were once standard in the past have now changed.

My project aims were based on a theme:

1. To determine the applicability of the IUCN Best Practice Guidelines for the Re-Introduction of Great  Apes to orangutan rehabilitation and re-introduction practitioners;

2. To determine the major difficulties practitioners face in implementing the IUCN guidelines; and

3. To determine the potential need for an updated best practice guideline containing in-depth orangutan-specific rehabilitation and re-introduction practices. 

I obtained my data from interviews with practitioners and questionnaires handed out to those willing to participate. The questions asked pertained to the project aims.
The quantitative results from the questionnaire determined that the majority of practitioners felt that the IUCN guidelines for great ape re-introduction lack orangutan-specific information with a need to update sections regarding policies and protocol for guideline compliance and post-release monitoring. 

– Zoo Keeper Clare Beldin-Walker


Resources for orangutan conservation:

African Elephant Lilac Turns 45 – Learn How She is Helping Advance Science for Her Species

May 1, 2023

This year, African elephant Lilac turns 45 years old. At this age, female African elephants are considered geriatric. She is in the middle of Seneca Park Zoo’s other elephants, Genny C (45) and Moki (40). Lilac participates in daily training sessions and daily bath sessions—plus she’s always eager to test out new enrichment items. Lilac has a lively personality!

Over her lifetime, Lilac has learned and maintained more than 50 different behaviors. Many of these behaviors allow Lilac to voluntarily participate in her own health care, such as presenting her feet for radiographs, allowing keepers to file her toenails, and opening her mouth for inspection of her teeth. Every time she chooses to participate, she gets tasty treats for reinforcement! All three of our elephants, including Lilac, are trained to participate in voluntary blood draws, where keepers are able to draw blood from behind the ear. These have always given us valuable information about the elephants’ health, but this year, Lilac’s blood is contributing to a global cause.


Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) is a naturally occurring virus in elephants, both in their natural range and in zoos. EEHV usually remains latent, but when EEHV becomes active, it can cause hemorrhagic disease in susceptible elephants. Many elephants are able to fight the virus on their own, but calves are the most susceptible to EEHV after they have been weaned, since they are not being protected by their mother’s antibodies.

There is currently no known cure, but knowledge from ongoing research has evolved and improved the treatment of EEHV. Currently, elephants can potentially recover if diagnosed and treated early. Our elephants here at Seneca Park Zoo are at low risk due to their age, but our Zoo is still able to contribute to the cause. Seneca Park Zoo collects elephant plasma to contribute to an “elephant blood bank” that is maintained by an alliance of zoos housing elephants that are able to collect plasma. There is currently no known cure for EEHV, but donated plasma can be used for research or to treat this virus in other elephants. This year, Lilac became a first-time plasma donor, and she did a great job!

She was patient with her keepers and veterinary staff, and she appeared to enjoy all the attention and variety of food treats. Because Lilac has a strong foundation with her voluntary medical behaviors, she is able to help other elephants around the world.

– Zoo Keeper Morgan Saidian

Lilac's "Birthday Cake" Enrichment

Reproductive Evaluations & Research with Lions in Our Care

Zuri is trained to allow us to collect vaginal swabs for reproductive evaluations and research. This process is not painful and only takes a few seconds. Zuri is allowed to leave if she chooses, but she often stays put even after we are done! The swabs are then rolled on glass slides to transfer any cells onto the slide. 

These are used for cytology – evaluation of the cells under a microscope. The slides are sent to the Lindner Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW). This organization performs important research regarding the protection and conservation of endangered species. They also have educational programs to help spread knowledge and engage the public to help save endangered species.

This research is important for many of the species that we work with in zoos because many wild populations are faced with the threat of extinction. Lions are listed as a vulnerable species by IUCN, which is one-step below endangered, meaning that wild populations are declining and they are facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. 

Knowing more about their reproductive physiology helps to increase success of breeding in zoos, which helps zoos to maintain healthy and genetically diverse populations. 

Reproductive research also helps us to understand how animals reproduce in the wild and what factors could disrupt or help to increase reproductive success. This knowledge is an important component of conservation strategies.

– Dr. Chris McKinney (DVM / Zoo Veterinarian)

Masai Giraffe Kipenzi Turns 6!

Kipenzi is currently the oldest giraffe in our care at Seneca Park Zoo, and turns 6 this year!

Originally born at the Toledo Zoo on April 3rd 2017, she made her SPZ debut in August of 2018 and was the first member of our giraffe herd. She quickly won the hearts of her keepers and earned herself several nicknames, including Kippy, Kip, and Kip Kip Hooray!

Soon after her arrival she was joined by herdmates Iggy and Parker, creating SPZ’s first official tower (giraffe herd). Kippy is the friendliest of our giraffes and likes people watching almost as much as she loves smelling her keepers’ pants and shoes. She can often be seen at the feed deck during the summer months participating in our giraffe feed experience, and likes to keep the exhibit looking nice by eating leaves off the ground in her spare time.

She has also been a wonderful aunt to our baby Olmsted, and assists Iggy in checking up on him to make sure he is behaving.

Kippy also enjoys her training sessions, she has been taught to stand on our scale so we can check her weight (over 1,400 lbs.!) and she has learned to voluntarily put her foot up on cue so a blood sample can be taken to ensure she is in good health.

Of course, training a giraffe is no easy task, but Kippy is usually willing to try her best in exchange for some tasty carrot sticks. Kipenzi has been an amazing addition to SPZ and we are hopeful she will be with us for many years to come.

She can be easily identified by her ossicones (similar to horns), which curve in towards each other, creating a heart shape in-between. Her spots are also a bit darker in color than Iggy’s. 

We hope you take a minute to stop by and say hello to Kippy on your next visit  to the Zoo and wish her a happy birthday!
– Zoo Keeper Maggie Kinsella 

Our White-Headed Buffalo Weaver Breeding Journey

The white-headed buffalo weaver is a passerine species of bird that is endemic to east African countries. It resides in savanna/shrub habitat and feeds on a variety of fruits, insects, and seeds. Pairs build elaborate nests made of small sticks and twigs.

White-headed buffalo weavers have been in zoos for more than a century. As of 2021, there were just over 100 birds in 33 AZA-accredited institutions. The first recorded hatch in a zoo was in 1980, and zoo population then grew due to importation and continued breeding successes, reaching a peak of 130 weavers in 2016. Since 2016, the population has been declining due to an aging population and fewer hatches. Recommendations were made to improve husbandry, increase hatches, and increase space in institutions to compensate for the decrease in the population.

Day 1 - Note the yolk sac (and first fecal sac).
Day 1 - Note the yolk sac (and first fecal sac).
Day 2 - Sleepy chick with very little strength.
Day 2 - Sleepy chick with very little strength.
Day 3 - Note egg tooth at the tip of beak. This will start to disappear from this day forward.
Day 3 - Note egg tooth at the tip of beak. This will start to disappear from this day forward.
Day 4 - Pin feathers popping out along spine.
Day 4 - Pin feathers popping out along spine.
Day 5 - Eyes are just starting to open here. Pin feathers protruding from wings.
Day 5 - Eyes are just starting to open here. Pin feathers protruding from wings.
Day 10 - Yellow tail feathers coming in. Eyes are starting to open. Maxilla (top side of beak) darkening.
Day 10 - Yellow tail feathers coming in. Eyes are starting to open. Maxilla (top side of beak) darkening.

In fall 2020, animal care staff paired our buffalo weavers Simon and Edie. White-headed buffalo weavers usually lay 2-3 eggs with a very short gestation period of 12 to 14 days. Although they did begin to breed and lay eggs, none made it to the point of successfully fledging, despite diligent care from the zoo keepers. Simon and Edie simply weren’t providing the parental care a hatchling needed. A call was made to the Species Survival Plan coordinator for white-headed buffalo weavers, who suggested we investigate hand-rearing this species.

Discussions with a curator at a zoo successful in hand-rearing white-headed buffalo weavers were key to our subsequent success, as we adopted many parts of that zoo’s protocol into our own. Virtual meetings allowed our team to ask questions about husbandry techniques and milestones to look for. We re-purposed one of the Animal Health department’s incubators as a chick brooder and ordered a special matting recommended to form a nest cup for raising chicks. Having this network and community available to us was a game changer as we went into uncharted territory. 

On October 30, 2022, a chick hatched, and we put the new protocols in motion. Keeper staff monitored parental behavior to determine the right time to pull a newly hatched chick from the parents. As there is no easy way to look directly into the complicated woven weaver nest, observing parental behavior is key.

At 5 grams, this little weaver had a lot of growing to do! A small group of staff tag-teamed feeding the little bird. We shared husbandry techniques and developmental milestones after each feeding, keeping detailed notes.

Using the same small team for each feeding was key to rearing the chick. The chick was fed seven times daily (every two hours from 6 a.m. to  6 p.m.) for the first 12 days. In November, the chick grew from 6 to  80 grams.

This is an important milestone for Seneca Park Zoo, and we are proud to contribute to bolstering the white-headed buffalo weaver population in AZA zoos. 

– Assistant Curator John Adamski

Buffalo Weaver chick - November 2022 - John Adamski 3
Day 12 - Starting to stand! Eyes open and aware.
Day 12 - Starting to stand! Eyes open and aware.
Day 17 - Approaching fledge date.
Day 17 - Approaching fledge date.
Day 19 - Fledge day!
Day 19 - Fledge day!
Day 30 - November 29, 2022 - a real weaver bird!
Day 30 - November 29, 2022 - a real weaver bird!

This is an important milestone for Seneca Park Zoo, and we are proud to contribute to bolstering the whiteheaded buffalo weaver population in AZA zoos.

African Elephant Genny C Turns 45!

Genny C is one of our many beloved residents here at Seneca Park Zoo. She is the oldest of our three African elephants, just ahead of Lilac (44) and Moki (40).

Elephants are extremely smart and have many unique abilities. Over the course of her lifetime, Genny C has learned more than 50 different behaviors. Many of these behaviors help us with her daily care, such as lifting up each individual foot to file her nails or fanning out her ears for bath time. 

Especially important to maintain are her medical behaviors. These behaviors allow Genny C to voluntarily participate in her own health care. She is trained for a variety of voluntary medical behaviors, such as blood draws, foot radiographs, and opening her mouth for inspection of her teeth. Every time she chooses to participate, she receives many tasty treats as reinforcement. 

Genny C also knows a lot of exercise behaviors, including lying down and sitting. These behaviors help handlers assess how well she’s moving. Genny C has a strong bond with her keepers, and she is always an eager participant during training sessions. 


Elephants have strength to match their size–Genny C can even move logs! It is truly an awe-inspiring experience to watch her move one. Our elephants are routinely provided with fresh logs to move around on their own whenever they please, but every so often one will end up in a spot that is tricky for the keepers to move. That’s when Genny C comes in to help. She can quickly move the log out of the way, and we always have a yummy treat ready for her. It is her choice whether or not to help us move the logs, but she usually seems ready to lend a helping trunk. 

You may be surprised to learn that Genny C is also a very talented kickball player. During your zoo visit, you might be lucky enough to catch Genny C in action. We have a special ball that we can toss for the elephants, and Genny C can “kick” it with her trunk. Sometimes she can really get it to catch some air! Elephant kickball is a unique, mentally stimulating form of enrichment for our elephants. 

Over the years, Genny C has learned so many amazing things. Thanks for letting us share a few highlights! If you are looking for Genny C on exhibit, she is our tallest elephant, and she is very vocal. She can often be heard “purring.” 

– Zoo Keeper Morgan Saidian 

Keeper Connection: Why Don’t the Penguins Swim… Or Do They?

If you’ve spent any time at the penguin exhibit over the last 20 years or so, you’ve probably asked why our penguins never swim. It is, after all, the number one question asked when it comes to the penguins. But to answer that question would require one to get inside the tiny brain of a penguin. Something we’ve never quite been able to accomplish.
But things have changed in 2022! Guests that have gotten to the Zoo bright and early have been greeted by something long dreamed of by staff and guests alike: A pool full of swimming penguins.
So what has changed? While we have tried a number of tactics over the years, the final solution may ultimately be a combination of factors coming together. It’s also important to note that in conservation care, just like in their natural range, individual penguins take their cues from the rest of the colony. If there is a sense of danger, individuals are less likely to act on their own. In nature, this danger might be a nearby shark or a cape fur seal. In our habitat, the perceived danger may be our guests themselves.

The turnaround may have begun back in 2020, when the Zoo was closed for several months, due to covid. As guests returned, we roped off the area around the penguin glass for guest protection, as it’s a high-touch area. This “buffer zone” seems to have offered a bit of comfort, but again, only the penguins know for sure. 

Another factor may be that we’ve started handling our younger birds more, making them more comfortable around their keepers and more trusting of humans, in general. This seems to be reinforced by the fact that they are more likely to swim with a keeper “lifeguard” on duty. 

However, the most important move likely came when we brought in 8 new penguins from several other facilities. These penguins were “known swimmers” and did not have the same fears that our colony had developed over the years. Over time, their eagerness to swim has become contagious, first with our younger birds and then to the parents. To date, nearly half of our 34 penguins have been observed swimming with sometimes a dozen at a time.

Now I know that there will be some long-time members who read this with skepticism so we’ve included a little video evidence. My suggestion would be to come out and see them yourself! The best time is when they first come out first thing in the morning at roughly 10 A.M.

Better hurry though, the snow is coming and these are warm-climate penguins!

– 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 sancob.co.za.
  • 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 seafoodwatch.org to learn more about eco-friendly options.