Member T-Shirts 2024

One of the many benefits of becoming a member is the ability to purchase your exclusive annual member t-shirts! Available only to members, they are a great way to show your support for the Zoo and are designed to highlight different animals every year. It’s been a Zoo tradition for decades – we’ve seen visiting members sporting shirts from 1997! 

Penguin Circle, Otter Circle, and Partners In Conservation membership levels include two t-shirts every year, free of charge. They are also available for purchase in both youth and adult sizes at the Member Entrance for just $12.

This year’s design highlights the zebra – one of the incredibly unique and mesmerizing species found right here at our Zoo. Our mission to inspire our community to connect with, care for, and conserve wildlife and wild places is also prominently featured.


Show your support for these crucial species and your Zoo and start your member t-shirt collection now! 

Wildlife Action Crew: Rhinos and Poaching

Rhinos are a fascinating species. There are five species of rhinos still walking the Earth today. The five rhinos are the white rhino, black rhino, greater one-horned rhino, Sumatran rhino, and Javan rhino. 

The most endangered of the five rhinos is the Javan Rhino. The Javan Rhino inhabits Java, Indonesia. The smallest rhino species is the Sumatran Rhino which weigh 1,870 pounds. The greater one-horned rhino lives in parts of India. They have a singular horn that is not very large. The Sumatran and the Javan rhino have tusks. The black rhino is a browser. This means that they have a prehensile lip that they use to pluck their food. The white rhino is the largest of the rhinos and the second largest land mammal. They are grazers meaning they have a wide mouth with only molars which they use to grind their food down. 


All five species of rhinos are endangered. The most endangered is the northern white rhino which is functionally extinct. This is because there are only two of them left and they are both females. The biggest threat to rhinos is illegal poaching. The cause for the massive poaching effort is because the people that poach these rhinos are generally poor. They see rhino horn as a paycheck as the horns generally bring in more money than having a traditional job like farming. 

The reason for this is because of the large demand for rhino horn for traditional medicines in China. This medicine has no proven benefit, but many people believe it works. To prevent the illegal poaching of rhinos we need to start educating the people in that area and teach them of the effect illegal poaching has on the future of rhinos. 

If you want to help rhinos, you can donate to organizations like the International Rhino Foundation. The money that goes to IRF positively affects rhinos. They do this by funding things like research projects, anti-poaching efforts, and habitat conservation.

Thank you to our Wildlife Action Crew teens for researching and writing this blog along with the other great content shared this week!

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!

Seneca Park Zoo Summer Programming

We are so excited to be able to bring back and promote scheduled days/times for animal feedings, enrichments, keeper chats, conservation talks and more so that you can better plan a truly memorable Zoo experience. We do love the unpredictable nature of never knowing what you might see at the Zoo, but we know it can also be a bummer to miss seeing your favorite animal. Check out the schedule below (Printable PDF) to see some of what we have in store for you to plan on Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day and reserve your tickets ahead of time here!



Thank you to our Summer Programming Presenting Sponsor: 

Aquatic Support Systems: Behind-The-Science with our Aquatic Life Support Operators

Aquatic Life Support Systems support polar bear, sea lion, river otter, and penguin pools, as well as eagle pond, sturgeon, hellbender, cichlid and reef tanks. These habitats require management of more than 250,000 gallons of water daily. Supporting aquatic life is something of a hybrid position, combining both animal care and facilities expertise. It requires chemistry, engineering, plumbing, mechanical and zoology knowledge. Our Zoo staff are also extremely adept problem-solvers, regularly troubleshooting and addressing any issues as they arise.

All AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are required to regularly monitor water quality. High quality of water enhances animal health programs, and tests for pH, chemicals, alkalinity, turbidity (clarity of water), and bacteria are done regularly. Seneca Park Zoo uses zero chemicals to treat water, meaning no halogen, bromine, or chlorine. Instead, we rely on sand filtration, mechanical filtration, and oxidation sterilization protocols. Aquatic animal habitats each require specific water quality measures. Sea lion and polar bear pools filter 1,000 gallons per minute and 700 gallons per minute respectively. The sea lion pool requires higher filtration because there are four animals that live in that habitat, whereas Anoki the polar bear takes a dip several times a day.

The Process
Filtration and sterilization begin with mechanical
filters. These giant inline strainers filter out large
particles, waste, and other debris like leaves and
sticks, that fall into the pools. After the water is
strained, it travels through five large pumps, which
pull the water through the system. All water flowing
through the pumps is measured for flow and volume
using special gauges.

Water is then pumped through horizontal sand
filters. Coarse-grained sand and gravel efficiently
remove suspended solids through straining and
absorption. Layers of graded gravel line the bottom
of the tank over networks of drainage pipes, and
over that, the sand.

After the water exits sand filtration, it is then sterilized with ozone. Seneca Park Zoo does not use chemicals for sterilization, partly because of the threats that traditional chemical treatments pose to ecosystems. Ozone is a superior disinfectant and one of the strongest oxidants, it is often used in drinking water supplies and air purification settings. The Zoo generates and contacts ozone on site, requiring specific knowledge and systems support for these complex processes. 

Once water is contacted with ozone, it is then 
passed through a cyclonic separator that spins the water, followed by a heat source, removing the ozone completely

Polar bear water heads directly to the habitat. However, before making its way back into the sea lion habitat pool, water may be chilled. Sea lions require water temperature below 68 degrees or else it may be harmful to them. While not necessary in cooler months, water must be cooled during summers, and it is passed through a 55-ton chiller. This whole process takes seconds and is supported by hours and hours of hard work by our Aquatic
Life Support team. The next time you’re in Rocky Coast Gallery, know that just under your feet, systems and dedicated staff are working around the clock to ensure the best possible environments for the animals in our care.

Luke Hawley - Supervisor of Life Support Systems/Facilities
Adam Melinis - Assistant Life Support Operator

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

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.

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.