A day in the life

If you ask zoo keepers what they do, you will most likely get a different answer from each of us. The role of a zoo keeper once focused on the general care of the animals: they cleaned cages and fed the inhabitants. But today, that aspect of our day is only the tip of the iceberg.

The core of our responsibilities remains the general care of the animals, but the definition of “general care” has changed. Cleaning enclosures is more than just “picking up.” When cleaning enclosures, zoo keepers are now more aware of disinfectants and the pathogens they protect against. We focus on giving the animals an environment that is both sanitary and comfortable. Adequate bedding, shelter and easy access to food and water are a must.

Photo by Marie Kraus

Photo by Marie Kraus

Feeding the animals at the Zoo is no easy task. Every animal has different needs and we offer a wide range of diets to meet those needs. Preparing an animal’s diet can take a large portion of our day. We can weigh up to 100 pounds of fish and 50 pounds of meat in one day. The fruit and vegetables we go through would fill a refrigerator and more. I can’t even count the number of insects we pass out.


Photo by Kelli O’Brien

Training is becoming the cornerstone of animal care at the Zoo. Training programs can be as simple as an animal moving from one enclosure to another, or can be as elaborate as asking an elephant to present its feet for a trim. Training not only provides the animals with the mental stimulation they need but also helps us to accomplish other added responsibilities.


Photo by Kelli O’Brien

Medical care is just as important for a zoo animal as it is for people and their pets. The dedication of zoo keepers to keep their animals healthy is paramount. Vaccinations, daily medications and even anesthesia are all achieved through training and the bonds that form between zoo keeper and animal. Zoo keepers are the first line of defense when it comes to the animal’s health.


Photo by Tina Fess

Photo by Ken Traub

Photo by Ken Traub

We all like to have fun and explore new things. Enrichment is just that: a way for our animals to have fun. We provide new toys, scents, puzzles and surprises that keep the animals guessing as to what may come next.


Photo by Kelli O’Brien

Photo by Tina Fess

Photo by Tina Fess

The list of jobs that a zoo keeper does can go on and on. Once our daily animal care is done we focus on making the grounds look good, help with minor maintenance issues, serve on a variety of committees, and even extend our reach beyond the borders of the Zoo by serving on Species Survival Plan committees through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and other national and international groups.

A day in the life of a zoo keeper is a busy one. The list of things to do never ends. The dedication and commitment of the zoo keepers keeps that list moving forward. Most of us, if asked, would say there is no place we would rather be. It is both a privilege and an honor to be in the company of a zoo animal.


–Robin English, Zoologist

Do the elephants really eat trees?

I am often asked this question by visitors while the elephants are enjoying a delicious truckload of browse that the keepers have collected for them. Browse is defined as “shoots, twigs, and leaves of trees and shrubs used by animals for food.”13

Seneca Park Zoo implements a browse program as part of the elephant management program. This is a requirement for accreditation by the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums). The elephant staff works very hard to provide Genny C and Lilac with a variety of browse as often as possible.

12The goal is to encourage species-appropriate appetite behaviors, as well as to promote dental health. Since elephant teeth migrate forward (not vertically), it is important that the right type of food is offered to promote dental health and allow for the natural progression of each molar.

The elephant staff offers types of browse that have been approved by our veterinarian as safe for the elephants to eat. Staff is trained to be able to identify various species of trees that are native to Western New York. Seneca Park Zoo has relationships with several local towns and tree companies who are happy to help provide the elephants with browse.

14So the answer to the question “Do the elephants really eat trees?” is YES! Their favorites are sugar maple, Norway maple, silver maple and willow. They eat the leaves and small branches completely, chew the bark off of the medium size branches, and use their tusks to scrape the bark off of the large logs.


Blog by Sue Rea, Zoologist; Photos by Sue Rea and Jenna Bovee, Elephant Handler

Our raccoons aren’t just any raccoons

Photo by Amanda Davis
Photos by Amanda Davis

A lot of visitors ask why the Zoo has raccoons on exhibit, saying “If I wanted to see a raccoon, I would just look out in my backyard.” While this may be true, I guarantee you do not have raccoons quite like Willow, Buffy and Xander in your backyard!

Our raccoons came from Disney and were a part of a show there. We had hoped in our summer stage show, however that did not end up happening. Instead, they get to lounge about at their leisure and venture around when they see fit. You may notice they spend more time lounging than running about. We do give them a lot of different enrichment: puzzle feeders, where they have to work for their food.This gives them physical and mental exercise. They are very smart and crafty animals that need to be challenged and stimulated.

Raccoon (3)Since they are so smart and food motivated, they catch on to training behaviors very quickly. They are trained to shift on and off of exhibit, into and out of their den; have a litter box that they use every day and are target trained to touch their hands and nose to the end of a target pole. The trio is also trained to sit on a scale to be weighed. Buffy is one that sometimes won’t get off the scale because she is looking for more rewards. The newest behavior they are working on is injection training, and they are doing very well with that.

Raccoon (1)Although they are food motivated, they are extremely picky. They only like apples, pears, grapes, blueberries, and occasionally, pineapple. They turn their noses up at strawberries, peaches, watermelon, plums and other fruits. They will eat cooked sweet potato every once and a while, but refuse other vegetables. They also don’t like honey, and will only eat sweetened cereals. They occasionally eat yogurt, baby food and jello. They do like hard-boiled eggs and the carnivore diet meat and thankfully seem to enjoy their dog food, which is the bulk of their diet.

Buffy, Willow and Xander may look like the average raccoon that you might see in your back yard, but they are far from average. They are very smart, picky, adorable little mischief makers that are hard not to love.

– Amanda Davis, zoo keeper