Photo by Terri Redhead

Photo by Terri Redhead

While it can be done, it’s a complicated and slow process that requires a lot of patience. Here at the Zoo we have three extremely handsome Mexican gray wolves: Diego, Durango and Chico. Technically, the wolves belong to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, as Mexican gray wolves are critically endangered and need to be strictly managed. For more information about this program, click here.

Due to their status, our wolves are always potentially releasable animals, in order to father future generations. We want them to retain their apprehension of humans as to keep them safe if they are released into their natural ranges.

When it comes to caring for the wolves, we use a free contact management system. This means that two keepers go into the exhibit with the wolves at a time. One keeps an eye on the wolves, typically carrying a shovel or rake to appear bigger and more intimidating, while the other cleans the exhibit. Over time though, the wolves (Durango in particular) have become used to the keepers’ presence. This could be problematic, given the intent is to keep them wary of human interaction.

Once we realized that they started to lose their hesitation, we needed to find a solution. Our first thought was to move the wolves into a separate, off-exhibit area. However, moving the wolves is easier said than done. For our other animals, we use positive reinforcement training techniques, which involve using food as rewards, and building trust. However, for the wolves this would involve too much interaction, which could further decrease their flight distance from people. We decided to implement a habituation technique. This technique does involve food rewards. However, the food is placed in the desired switch area, instead of the keeper giving the food directly. The end goal is to move all three wolves into the switch area and close the door for an extended period of time. This allows the keeper to service the exhibit without the wolves being in the yard. In this way, all are safe and the wolves are as wild as possible, in case they are called upon to supplement the wild population.

- Abigail Carr, zoo keeper

Most Zoo visitors only have a brief glimpse into the world of a zoo keeper and only see what we’re working on at that moment, which is usually cleaning. What they don’t see are the other details involved in animal care, such as diet preparation. Some diets, like the orangutans, are complex and measured out by the calorie. In order to mimic the orangutans eating habits in the wild, their diet is fed out in small increments throughout the day. Pictured below is one full day of diets for my section including seasonal browse (willow, grapevine, maple, etc.).

Photo by Brian Sheets

Photo by Brian Sheets

A typical day:

8:15 to 9 a.m.: Arrive at work, collect radio and other gear, review reports and daily logs. Team meeting to discuss the day’s activities and goals. Check on animals, begin diets, dispense medications, first orangutan feeding.

9 to 10:30 a.m.: Clean Meerkat Exhibit, feed diet and provide enrichment (activities that stimulate our animals’ bodies and minds). Second orangutan feeding, clean exhibit, provide enrichment.

10:15 to 10:30 a.m.: Break, and much needed coffee!

10:30 to 10:45 a.m.: Prepare morning produce diet for orangutans, tortoise diet, and third orangutan feeding.

10:45 to Noon: Clean gibbon and spider monkey exhibits, provide enrichment, feed tortoise.

Noon to 12:30 p.m.: Fourth orangutan feeding, clean another inside room of Orangutan Exhibit.

12:30 to 1 p.m.: Lunch

1 to 2:30 p.m.: Prepare afternoon diets for orangutans, spider monkeys and gibbons, and provide enrichment.

2:45 to 4:30 p.m.: Fifth orangutan feeding, finish any remaining cleaning. Start paperwork and fill out daily logs. Feed meerkats’ afternoon diet and provide enrichment. Start sixth orangutan feeding.

4:30 to 5 p.m.: Final orangutan, gibbon and spider monkey feeding. Check all animals and make sure all locks and doors are secured, heaters are on (if needed), areas cleaned, cleaning supplies restocked, tools put away, etc. When all Zoo areas have checked in with the supervisor of the day, radios and gear are put away and we head home.

This is an average day but does not include animal training, observation, produce, meat and fish deliveries, staff meetings, scheduled animal presentations, speaking with visitors, animal and visitor emergencies, exhibit repairs and improvements, grounds keeping and other typical duties for the keepers.

If it seems like a lot, trust me, it is. But this is not work to us. It’s a privilege, and we’re very fortunate to be in a position to care for these animals. That’s what keeps us going.

- Brian Sheets, zoo keeper


More about our penguin colony

Photo by Crystal Bratcher

Photo by Crystal Bratcher

Here at the Zoo we currently have a colony of 36 African penguins: 28 adults, seven juveniles, and one chick. With so many birds running around, two of the most common questions I get as a penguin keeper are: “How do you tell all of them apart?” and “How do you keep track of all those penguins?”

Well, for me, telling them apart is easy. Each penguin has a band with colored beads on either their left or right wing. Each mated pair of penguins and their chicks have the same color or combination of colors, with males banded on the left, and females on the right.

When it comes to keeping track of them, it’s more than just being able to tell them apart. It’s about knowing each individual penguin enough to tell if they’re acting in an irregular way. For example, a typically good eater not eating as much as they normally do, or a social butterfly that seems to be separating themselves from the rest of the colony, indicates that something could be wrong. Then again, they could simply be getting ready to lay an egg.

Animals are not good at letting you know if they aren’t feeling well. So, we need other methods besides behavioral observations to keep track of their health. One way we can tell if something might be wrong is by keeping track of weights. At the beginning of every month, we weigh the entire colony. All of the penguins are used to being weighed, so it’s a fairly easy process. Check out the video below to watch the routine.

Don’t forget to visit the Zoo on Monday, October 13th for Penguin Awareness Day! There will be keeper talks, penguin feeding demonstrations, and we have some great silent auction items to bid on that day, too. Hope to see everyone there.

- Heather Paye, zoo keeper

Where are the lynx?

Photo by Tina Fess

Photo by Tina Fess

There are so many times that we are asked, “Where are the Canada lynx?”

Our Canada lynx can typically be found up on the deck, or on the ground along the back fence line. The colors of the lynx help them to blend in very well with their environment. The colors help so well in fact, that they can be right out there in front and even we have to look really hard just to catch a glimpse of them. While it might not be the best viewing opportunities for us, their natural ability to camouflage themselves serves an extremely valuable purpose in their natural ranges. It not only helps keep approaching predators from seeing them, but also their prey doesn’t see them coming.

We have a two-year-old male, Gretzky, who arrived in 2013 as well as a one-year-old female, Bianca, who arrived this fall. While they both came from zoos in Canada, they had never met until now.

Gretzky and Bianca are currently being introduced to one another. This is a slow process and usually takes anywhere from three to six weeks. In their indoor area, they first had what we refer to as nose-to-nose contact. This means there is mesh between them so that they can see, hear, smell, touch, and safely get comfortable with each other. They have been taking turns out on the exhibit duringthis period, so as to give Bianca time to adjust to her new surroundings, and allow her time to learn the exhibit.

Photo by Kelli O'Brien

Photo by Kelli O’Brien

They have been introduced to one another inside the exhibit since then, which you can see in the photo to the right.

If all goes well, maybe I will be writing about lynx kittens in the next year or two.

Check out the video of Bianca on her first day out in the yard below.

- Heidi Beifus, zoo keeper

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

Poopology: The study of…

Photo by Garrett Caulkins

Photo by Garrett Caulkins

…poop. OK, so it isn’t really a word, but the study of animal droppings is a big part of the Seneca Park Zoo’s animal preventative health program.

Droppings from all the Zoo’s animals are examined annually to help assess the health of the collection. They can reveal a number of things about the animal and requires very little effort on the part of the animal and the staff. When testing animal droppings, there are three main components that are evaluated.

The first is general appearance. Does it look normal? Inconsistencies in appearance can mean a more underlying problem that may require additional tests.

Second: Is there anything there that shouldn’t be there? Foreign objects can sometimes find their way into the digestive tract of animals. Most pass through and are easily identified in droppings. If we know something had been ingested, we can check to make sure it passes through. If not, we can take other measures to help move things along.

Third is a microscopic exam looking for internal parasites. This is the part where we look for worms and other invaders. Parasites can cause additional trouble for our animals and any positive results are evaluated by the veterinarian for the proper course of treatment.

- Robin English, Veterinary Technician

Hi! My name is Mike Wemett; I’ve been a zoo keeper at Seneca Park Zoo since 1999.

Not everyone gets to spend their day with a baby orangutan, so I wanted to share a few photos of baby Bella that I’ve taken since she was born in April 2013. Bella is the fourth baby born by her mother Kumang. Of the four, Bella is the most energetic and independent. She can often be seen hanging from just her feet from the top of the enclosure.

I hope these photos make everyone smile like Bella makes me smile every day. Enjoy!

- Mike Wemett, zoo keeper


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