Elephant Awareness Day is coming up soon. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, September 20th, join us down at the Elephant Exhibit in A Step Into Africa to learn all about elephants and how we care for them. Learn the importance of elephant conservation, why elephants are important to humans and the actions you can take to help conserve them in the wild.

There will be many activities throughout the day for visitors to partake in: tours of the Elephant Barn, enrichment for our African elephants Genny C. and Lilac, face painting and even a Watermelon Eating Contest! Visitors will also have a chance to enter a raffle to win a special painting done by Genny C. or Lilac, too.

- Jenna Bovee, zoo keeper

Memories of Admiral

As a keeper, I get asked from time to time what my favorite animal to work with is. That would be a river otter named Admiral. Unfortunately, Admiral passed away in 2011 at the age of 21, which at the time was the oldest recorded river otter in conservation care.

Photo by Catina Link

Photo by Catina Link

Admiral first came to the Zoo in the early 1990s. I got to work with him as a volunteer and again in 2004 when I was hired as a keeper. As part of the Zoo’s Training Committee, I started training him three years later to “target” to different areas of the exhibit as well as get a monthly weight. It was a small challenge for me as Admiral was 17 at the time and had almost no formal training and it was my first animal to train at the Zoo.

I watched the tiger and sea lion trainers to get a few ideas on how to start. Admiral, who already looked forward to our training sessions was able to target through protective contact (we had a mesh barrier between us) in just two weeks. Then I got him used to standing on the scale so I could get his weight. He did so well with his training I decided to continue and see what else I could teach him!

I wanted to try to begin an otter demo to show everyone how amazing otters are. I worked with him five days a week through winter and spring on exhibit, to spin and go in and out of the water, stand on a tree stump and target to my hand. It was a success and everyone loved it! The following summer, in 2009, I taught him how to present his left and right sides and left and right paws, how to lay on his back and hold that position while I checked his paws, and how to do the dive off the rock waterfall into the upper otter pool.

Also during this time, he participated in three different studies for the Rochester Institute of Technology, including an enrichment study with objects or food items Admiral was most interested in. Aside from training and attention, he loved enrichment. His favorite was live fish. Admiral also loved snow and would jump in and out of deep snow piles and slide all over on his belly.

I also had him start painting for our chapter of the American Association of  Zoo Keepers’ annual Animal Art Expo benefit. It took a few tries – he had to get used to the smell of paint, but once he started he did a great job and provided us with many paintings over the past few years. That fall we got a surprise. The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle campaign wanted to use Admiral in their commercial. When I asked my supervisor what to train Admiral to do, he told me to have him drop a dollar bill into the kettle. I was puzzled at first on how to get Admiral to take a dollar with his mouth, but after a week he finally accomplished it. The commercial turned out to be a success. About a month later, our female otters Heather and Sara came to join Admiral from the Jacksonville Zoo – Admiral liked them right away!

That summer, Admiral still did the training demo. For our new behaviors I taught him to wave hello and I also modified the Red Kettle behavior so instead of dropping a dollar bill into the bucket, I now had him taking a folded up newspaper and dropping it into the recycle box. In 2011 we celebrated Admiral’s 21st birthday. He still loved his training but I was now working in the exhibit with Heather and Sara and gave Admiral a break from doing the demo every day and had Heather and Sara now be the stars. I would train with Admiral first and once we were finished he would go off to his hollow log to take a nap and I would let Heather or Sara out and we would do the demo.

I’m so fortunate to have been assigned to work with this amazing otter. His enthusiasm and love of training made it possible for me to me to start the first otter training demo, be in a commercial and gain respect from other otter keepers. Admiral is and always will be my favorite animal and best animal friend.

- Catina Link, zoo keeper

The world’s largest population of freshwater salmon was historically found in Lake Ontario. Loss of spawning habitat, prey species and overfishing contributed to the extinction of the Atlantic salmon locally.

The USGS Tunison Aquatic Laboratory scientists are changing that by raising and releasing over 100,000 Atlantic salmon annually since 2011 into Lake Ontario and tributaries. With improved spawning habitat and restoration of lake herring, preferred prey of salmon, the future looks bright.

Four Seneca Park crew and Zoo staff assisted USGS with marking 8,000 three-inch baby salmon by clipping a vestigial fin, called the adipose fin, from each fish. After administering an anesthetic in the water, the tiny fin is removed with a pair of surgical scissors.

This permanent identification allows fish biologists in the future to distinguish adult stocked from naturally spawned salmon. By restoring native fish species back to Lake Ontario we are returning a natural balance to the food web and ecosystem.

- Dr. Jeff Wyatt, Director of Animal Health and Conservation

It never fails; I’m out feeding the penguins or sea lions and somebody asks, “Where does all that fish come from?”

It’s a great question, considering our colony of African penguins alone consumes over 20,000 pounds per year and our three sea lions over 15,000 pounds! The answer is Bionic Zoo and Aquarium, a division of Bionic Bait based in Pompano Beach, Florida.

Several times a year an order is placed consisting of a variety of fish. Seasonal variation in our sea lion’s and penguin’s diets dictate what is ordered; typically herring, capelin, smelt, mackerel, squid and when available, trout. A refrigerated 18-wheeler makes it’s way to the Zoo where the fish is then unloaded by a Bobcat and brought down to the large walk-in freezer in the Rocky Coast kitchen.

At this point, keeper and facilities staff take over unloading over 6,000 pounds of fish, mostly by hand! Each box weighs between 25 and 40 pounds and is eventually pulled to the refrigerator where it will thaw for two days before being served to one of our fish-loving animals.

We are also very fortunate to have a local supplier, Sanford Bait Farm, who provides live fish monthly as enrichment for many of our animals. Although a much smaller quantity of fish, (approximately 10 pounds/month), our otters, tigerspolar bears and sea lions seem to really enjoy the time spent “hunting” for the shiners and chubs that Sanford Bait supplies.

- Kara Masaschi, Assistant Curator

Training our sea lion pup

Photo by Kelli O'Brien

Photo by Kelli O’Brien

Our California sea lion pup P.J. turned 1 on June 1! Training is another word for teaching. P.J. learned many behaviors from his mother, Marina – coming when he is called is the most important and most commonly used. Marina taught him to come inside the sea lion holding room, go on a scale to be weighed and she insists that he observes her training sessions! When he listened to her she would let him nurse. Yes, that is correct – a sea lion is a positive reinforcement trainer!

Now that Marina is not lactating, us zoo keepers reinforce the behavior we want P.J. to repeat with fish. In the last month he has learned many behaviors and continues daily. He knows his name so he comes to us whenever we ask. He is weighed weekly and we reinforce this with fish since Marina is not involved with P.J. being weighed anymore (but she is the one who trained him!)

Watch a video of our sea lion training sessions here.

We give him injections if he needs to be vaccinated, examine his eyes and every other body part. He targets to a target pole so we can shape behaviors, sits on a big boy sea lion seat, dunks his head in a salt water bath for general eye health and now he presents a flipper. It is adorable someone this small and young understands what I am asking him to do. The communication two different species can have because of positive reinforcement training is amazing and life changing!

- Mary Ellen Ostrander, zoologist

Photo by John Adamski

Photo by John Adamski

Every Monday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. from Memorial Day until Labor Day we have an Alligator Experience that is very popular with visitors!

Our gators get offered a variety of food items, but favorites include a variety of fish. Another food, offered in biscuit form, seems a bit odd to be fed to crocodilians – but they love it! Believe it or not – they actually make a commercially available crocodilian diet.

The chow is made with flours, meat meal, fish meal and dried blood cells, as well as other vitamins and minerals to form a complete and healthy diet for most crocodilians. When we feed all of these items out, we always have a “feeder” and a “watcher” to make sure that all of the animals are fed and no one is sneaking up behind a keeper.

Check out an up-close-and-personal video of our Alligator Experience here.


A team of nine herpetologists (specialists in amphibian, turtle and snake biology) from Toronto, Milwaukee and Buffalo zoos and SUNY Environmental School of Forestry (ESF) recently surveyed with Seneca Park Zoo staff a unique wetland in Greater Rochester.

The biologists hiked and waded through the boggy habitat in search of New York State’s endangered, protected reptiles and amphibians. The location of this special place is kept confidential to protect the animals from illegal harvest by poachers selling to high bidders in the black market pet trade.

Yes – endangered and protected animals are at risk of poaching in upstate New York just like the biodiversity hot spots in Africa, Asia and South America. The team of herpetologists identified many reptiles and amphibians, several of which may be seen in photographs taken by the Zoo’s Assistant Curator John Adamski and myself. This unique habitat and wildlife are saved and protected only due to the efforts of the private landowner and neighbors.

We all thank these habitat guardians for their vision saving New York’s wildlife in wild places for future generations.

- Dr. Jeff Wyatt, Director of Animal Health and Conservation


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