Western New York

Lake Sturgeon  •  Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake  •  Black Bear   •  Chittenango Ovate Amber Snail

Lake Sturgeon

The Problem

Commercial harvesting in the 19th century nearly wiped out the population of lake sturgeon, as the slow growth rate and late maturation of this species could not keep up with fishing rates. Industrial pollution has also severely limited the natural habitat of this species.

What You Can Do

Obey fishing laws. Release any lake sturgeon you catch and keep our waterways free of pollution by cleaning your recreational equipment.

Lake sturgeon release
Lake sturgeon release - Genesee River

How We Help

Since 2003, Seneca Park Zoo has assisted the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in a mark-and-recapture study to assess the success of its release of 5,000 sturgeon. The sturgeon have proven that the river is once again able to sustain wild populations of this prehistoric fish. As sturgeon are recaptured each year, they are measured and weighed. Each sturgeon is identified with a floy tag. These tags are individually numbered and give scientists a unique identifier for the fish they are examining. Growth rates for the reintroduced fish have been compared to populations in Wisconsin where the fish have not had exposure to the toxins previously found in the Genesee River, and sturgeon in the Genesee River are growing at a rate similar to those in the Wisconsin waterways. Fish that measured four inches at introduction are now measuring more than three feet in length! These juveniles will move out into the lake where they will stay until sexual maturity at 14 to 20 years of age.

In 2013, 2014, and 2015 the USGS and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) took the next step in repopulating the Genesee River. An additional 2,000 hatchlings were released into the river in 2013, and 1,000 more in 2014 and 2015. These newbies will now begin the process that their predecessors have helped to establish.

At the Zoo

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake

The Problem

Once found throughout the state, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake (EMR) is listed as an endangered species in New York due to rapid habitat loss. Massasaugas depend on wetlands for food and shelter but often use nearby upland areas during part of the year. Draining wetlands for farms, roads, homes, and urban development has eliminated much of the EMR habitat in many states including New York.

What You Can Do

Learn about local snakes to stop human harm of snakes based on fear. Since EMRs depend on wetlands to survive, it is beneficial to join clean ups to improve the condition of wetlands in our areas.  You should also be mindful of recycling and what goes down the drain in your home.

How We Help

In 2009, the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Species Survival Plan (SSP) began surveying the wetlands of Michigan looking for rattlesnakes. The survey takes place every year in May at the SSP’s annual meeting at the Edward Lowe Foundation. The hope is to learn more about the natural history of these snakes in their natural ranges, their population size and other key physiological data. Each rattlesnake found is weighed, measured and a blood sample is collected. A microchip is placed under the skin as a unique identifier for subsequent surveys. The markings, or saddle patterns, are also noted as each pattern is unique. Once all the data has been collected, the snake is returned to where it was found.

Massasauga Rattlesnake

Black Bears

The Problem

Black bear populations are expanding throughout western New York. This expansion has led to more interaction between humans and bears. These increased interactions make it dangerous for both bears and humans.

What You Can Do

The best way to help is to stay informed about the bear population in your area by visiting local wildlife agencys’ websites for up to date information. If you live near black bears it is important to make trash cans inaccessible, enclose your compost pile, and recycle wisely.

How We Help

To learn as much as possible about western New York’s expanding black bear population, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) began tracking bear movements through the use of standard radio-telemetry collars. Collaring female bears (sows) allows DEC officials to locate winter dens and obtain information on the adults and newborn cubs.

The number of cubs per sow, sexes, weights and body measurements all help in determining reproductive potential of the black bear population. This information is used to choose the best management strategy for black bears. Zoo staff have accompanied the DEC on several Southern Tier den visits, both to lend expertise on the care of immobilized animals and to train DEC staff in the proper technique of ID chip implantation. ID chips are being used as a method of marking cubs too small for conventional radio collars or ear tags.

From 2013 to present, the veterinary staff at the Zoo has been collecting blood samples from the sows during these den visits. The goal is to compare the values of bears in their natural ranges to those bears in human care as another indicator of the health status of the wild populations. The introduction of new equipment used to monitor the sows while under anesthesia has also helped to keep the bears and those around her safe.

Chittenango Ovate Amber Snail

The Problem

Found only along the spray zones of Chittenango Falls, the Chittenango ovate amber snails are New York State’s most endangered animal. Habitat degradation and competition from an invasive European snail have caused drastic declines in the population numbers over time.

What You Can Do

The best way to conserve these snails is to learn as much as you can about them as well as preventing human interference of their incredibly small habitat.

How We Help

Zoo staff make several trips each summer to help officials with snail surveys. To estimate the population of snails found at the falls, each snail is counted and then tagged with a bee tag for future identification. Scientists can use the information collected to determine the population status from year to year.

In addition to the surveys, staff from many organizations are studying the environment to help manage the habitat these snails need to survive. The snails are herbivorous so managing the vegetation around their habitat becomes critical. Water testing is also ongoing to ensure that the river is free of harmful chemicals for the snails and other inhabitants.