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

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


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