The Polar Bears made it through the summer quite comfortably. We only had four days that reached ninety degrees this year. On those days, Aurora and Zero made use of their indoor holding areas where we use fans and chilled air misters to keep them cool. They also love getting ice blocks with treats frozen inside them.

They made the most use out of their large outdoor pool and waterfalls. One of Zero’s favorite places to be is underneath the waterfalls. He lodges himself between the rocks, rests his head on the far edge of the pool, and lets the falling water massage his shoulders and back. Sometimes in the summer we get calls to check on Zero from concerned visitors who are afraid that he is stuck there, but rest assured that he is safe and sound and can easily get back out!

Aurora enjoys her pool time as well, as many of you may have seen over this summers’ programing season during our Polar Bear enrichment demonstrations. She especially enjoys playing with new “toys.” Watch her in action in the following video:

The end of the summer season means the end of the the polar bears’ time together, too. Every year right after Labor Day, we separate the bears for the fall denning season, which lasts until right after New Year’s Day. We do this because in the bears’ natural range, Aurora would seek a private place away from Zero if she were pregnant. So in case she is, we want to give her a calm and quiet place to rest where she can feel safe and secure.

Attached to her room is a den that is low in height and dimly lit which she uses to make a big straw nest in. During the denning season, Zero is never allowed in Aurora’s room or in her cubbing den. He has his own “bachelor pad” on the other side of the indoor holding area. It has multiple levels, an open air mesh top over half of it and a roof over the other half, as well as another pool. They take turns using the outdoor exhibit, so you will only see one or the other outside at a time for the next four months.

Blog and video by Heidi Beifus, Zoo Keeper

A critically important mission of Seneca Park Zoo and all zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is to help conserve wildlife and wild places. One of the ways we accomplish this is through inspirational experiences at the Zoo. We know that a visit to a zoo or aquarium does, indeed, motivate people to be more aware of environmental issues and to be more likely to take action to support conservation efforts. We see this reflected in the amount of money our guests voluntarily contribute to support our conservation partners globally.

African elephants are a species we have chosen to support. They are being killed for their ivory at the rate of 96 a day, or 35,000 a year. At this rate, they will be extinct in 10 years; African elephants desperately need help! Seneca Park Zoo is providing a small part of that help. By maintaining elephants in our care according to the very strict standards of AZA accreditation, our animals function very capably as ambassadors of their relatives still fighting for survival in their natural range, which has been dramatically reduced. In some situations, it may be literally bounded by fences or virtually bounded by the expansion of human land development.

Research has shown that elephants in human care have an average lifespan that is essentially the same as their counterparts living in Africa—and they certainly don’t face the same risks of being shot by automatic weapons and having their tusks cut off with a chain saw. Elephant Awareness Day is an effort by the dedicated, passionate and caring staff at the Zoo to elevate the knowledge of the dire plight these magnificent animals face on a daily basis and to encourage everyone to join us in saving them.

Photo submitted by Jessica Barone (Chana left, Moki right)

In preparation for Elephant Awareness Day this Saturday, we took your elephant questions on social media; below, elephant handlers Jenna, Sue and Lindsay answer some of them. Join us at the Zoo from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, September 19 to learn more about what you can do to help save elephants from extinction, enjoy enrichment demonstrations and participate in fun activities.

–Larry Sorel, Seneca Park Zoo Director

Jenna Bovee

How do you tell the difference between the four elephants?

Each elephant has a few distinct characteristics that you can look for to tell them apart. Genny C stands the tallest over the other three elephants. She has the longest tusks with the left tusk pointing downwards instead of straight out. Lilac is the smallest and shortest of the bunch. She also has a hole in her left ear. Moki has very large ears that fold over on the top of her head and a much shorter tail than the others. Her tail has very little hair on the end of it. And lastly, Chana has a very narrow face. Her tusks have grooves in them. She has a very long tail with a lot of hair on the end of it.

Why do you like working with the elephants?

I enjoy working with the elephants for many reasons. My favorite reason would probably be because of their intelligence and ability to learn and problem solve. Because of their distinct personalities, they all approach situations and work through them differently. It is very exciting and sometimes humorous to watch them in action. Being able to be a part of their lives day to day, observing these kinds of behaviors, gives me a huge appreciation for the species as a whole. It also reminds me how grateful we should be that these creatures get to be at Seneca Park Zoo!


Lindsay Brinda

Do Moki, Chana, Genny C and Lilac have distinct personalities?

Yes! Genny C is a very animated elephant. She will shake her head or body to get her handlers attention. She can be quite goofy. She loves her training sessions and food. She always has something to say, so you can usually hear her making some sort of noise. Lilac is an energetic elephant that loves to play. She enjoys stirring the other elephants up to get them to play with her and she really enjoys touching her handlers with her trunk. Moki is a thinker and a problem-solver during training session. She thrives on routine and enjoys swimming in the pool; sometimes she brings a tire in the pool with her. Chana likes watching the world go by. She is a sweet and laid-back elephant who is never in a rush. She does like to let out trumpets when greeting the other elephants.

How do the elephants sleep?

Elephants can sleep standing up or lying down. You can see all four of the elephants napping at some point during the day. They will have their trunks resting on the ground and their eyes closed. Elephants do need to lay down to sleep to take that enormous amount of weight off their legs. They usually lie down at night.

How do elephants communicate?

Elephants communicate through hearing, smells, touch and body posturing. They can also detect in their feet the vibrations from other elephants nearby.  Elephants communicate with a variety of sounds, some that we cannot hear. If you stand outside the elephant exhibit, you can see how much the elephants touch each other with their trunks. With four elephants, the exhibit is always active. If you watch each elephant, you can see its unique body language. For example, after we finish a training session and return an elephant to the yard, there is usually a greeting by the other elephants. One may raise their head or flare their ears, and there is always a rumble with the greeting.


Sue Rea

Do the elephants have a favorite food?

The elephants’ favorite foods are watermelons, pumpkins and bagels!

How much do the elephants weigh?

The elephants are weighed monthly. At their most recent weighing, Genny C weighed 9,038 pounds, Lilac weighed 7,612 pounds, Moki weighed 8,752 pounds and Chana weighed 9,042 pounds.

My 5 year old asks, “Why do you have to be aware of elephants?”

On Elephant Awareness Day we will show you how amazing our four elephants are. You will see them get baths, enrichment, participate in training sessions, paint, and even have a watermelon eating race! We will also show you how dedicated our zoo keepers are to giving Genny C, Lilac, Moki and Chana the highest level of care. We hope that when you leave, you will have a greater appreciation for all elephants. The world’s elephants are in trouble and they need our help. We need to stop the senseless poaching and the demand for ivory. Elephants are running out of time. I can’t imagine living in a world where my children never got to see elephants and appreciate how truly special they are.

Our eastern hog-nose snake animal sign next to its exhibit at the Zoo will tell you the snakes’ natural range, diet, threat level and some other interesting facts. What no sign can convey is how theatrical these snakes really are: if there was an Academy Award for the most dramatic snake, the hog-nose snake would go home with the Oscar.

Photo by Jeff LeClere

Photo by Jeff LeClere

If a hog-nose snake is threatened, it has quite the repertoire of movements and behaviors to distract and evade an attacker. The first tactic the hog-nose snake will use is to flatten out its head, giving it the appearance of having a hood, like a cobra. It then will take a very deep breath to inflate itself and then release the breath causing a loud hissing sound. If this had not deterred its irritant, the hog-nosed snake will strike. The snake does not open its mouth to bite, it only strikes at the attacker by hitting the attacker with its nose and face. A lot of other snakes will use these same types of scare tactics to ward off an attacker; however, other snakes will typically bite when they strike. The rest of the hog-nose snake’s dramatic tactics are specific to this species.

Photo by Amanda Davis

Photo by Amanda Davis

When hooding up, hissing and mock-biting will not deter a threat, the hog-nose snake will flail around, appearing to be having convulsions. The convulsive fit includes the snake thrashing around with its mouth open with its tongue hanging out. This performance is ended by the hog-nosed snake rolling onto its back and playing dead with its mouth open and tongue hanging out. The snake will even go as far to appear to have blood coming from its mouth and anus, as well as defecating and excreting a foul odor. When the snake is picked up, it will be limp. If the snake is set back down with its belly down, it will quickly flip over so it is upside down on its back again. After some time has passed, the snake will pick its head up and check for danger. If the threat is gone, it will roll over and scurry away.

The eastern hog-nose snake gives the best performance when evading an intruder. There are other snakes out there that have their own tactics when being confronted by a threat, but none give the convincing dramatic performance like that of the eastern hog-nosed snake. The eastern hog-nose snake in the ECO center at the Zoo typically will not put on this dramatic performance because they have a pretty easygoing life and don’t have the need to act out. They are capable of it, however, and would give the performance of a lifetime if needed.

Learn more about eastern hog-nose snakes and other species of reptiles and amphibians at Snakes and Friends Day this Saturday, August 22!

–Amanda Davis, Zoo Keeper

Listening to bats

New York bats are trying their best to bounce back from “white-nose syndrome,” a fungal disease first identified in 2006 in their overwintering caves near Syracuse. The mysterious disease has since spread across the eastern half of the United States & Canada killing more than 6 million bats. The little brown bat, once the most populous bat in New York State was decimated.

Photo courtesy of NYSDEC

Photo courtesy of NYSDEC

Zoo volunteers have for the past five years been assisting NYSDEC in monitoring bat populations after white-nose syndrome first appeared. We use a car-top mounted microphone and a lap top to record bat acoustics along 12, 20 mile routes in Western New York during June and July.

Volunteer Kenna in the "batmobile." Photo by Christine Christie

Volunteer Kenna in the “batmobile.” Photo by Christine Christie

Each bat species has a specific echolocation “voice print,” allowing a safe and non-invasive way to characterize bat species diversity.  The bat populations being monitored travel every spring from the cave systems affected by the white-nose syndrome fungus, spending summers in Greater Rochester, Buffalo and the Southern Tier where our “batmobile” recordings take place.

Each recording session begins exactly at sunset. We then drive 20 miles-per-hour, recording bats as they echolocate their mosquito and moth prey above designated routes, from Canandaigua and Letchworth to Holland, New York.

The white-nose fungus originated in Europe where bats have, over time, developed an immunity. Let’s hope our New York State bats eventually share the same immunity attributes of their European counterparts!

As researchers study the disease process in the laboratory and caves, our Seneca Park Zoo batmobilers are providing NYSDEC with critical data on bat population trends in their summer homes across Western New York.  We thank Seneca Park Zoo “batmobile” volunteers for advancing science to save bats.

How can you help? Add a bat house to your yard providing a roost. Garden without pesticides and plant moth attracting wildflower gardens.



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

As many of you know, two elephants from Jacksonville, Florida now reside here at Seneca Park Zoo! Upon their arrival, I was given the opportunity to be the primary trainer for Moki to smooth her transition into her new home. As part of this duty, I had to learn what behaviors Moki knew so that I could ask for them while properly meeting the criteria of the behaviors. It has been very exciting to see the variations in behaviors that Moki and Chana know in comparison to Genny C and Lilac. More exciting than that, was to see Moki’s ability to “sit up,” even though she tips the scale at 8,600 pounds! Although this  behavior was trained to be performed on command many years ago, elephants in their natural ranges perform similar behaviors all the time. They will sit up in order to reach high branches to eat or when they are taking a bath, or even just to take a break! So next time you are at the Zoo, come say hello to our new residents and maybe catch Moki in a training session to see her amazing “sit-up!”   –Blog and photos by Jenna Bovee, Elephant Handler

In past blogs, I’ve tried to answer a few of the most common questions we get asked at the African penguin exhibit. Today I thought I’d tackle another one: “Where do the penguins go at night?”

Our penguins do not stay out on exhibit all night. During the warmer months, they come inside around 4 p.m., not only so we can thoroughly clean the exhibit for the next day, but also for their own safety and well-being.

  • During heavy mosquito months, penguins are susceptible to mosquito-born diseases such as Avian Malaria, Encephalitis and West Nile Virus. Though these diseases pose little risk to humans, they can be deadly to our penguins. Therefore, all standing water in and around the exhibit is removed, replaced or chlorinated every day during the time when penguins are off exhibit.
  • Bringing them in at night allows us to better control their environment. Although penguins can adapt to a range of temperatures thanks to their tightly overlapping feathers, it should be noted that the nightly low temperature on the coast of south Africa seldom drops below 50 degrees fahrenheit. The same cannot be said for many of our Rochester nights!
  • Because the Zoo is located within Seneca Park, there is always the possibility of a predatory animal intrusion into the exhibit. Such animals could include coyotes, foxes, raccoons and cats.
  • Lastly, returning them to their indoor holding area aids in pair bonding by allowing pairs to spend the night in their nesting boxes.

If you’ve ever visited the Zoo in the winter, you’ve probably noticed our penguins are seldom on exhibit. That’s because, while most people associate penguins with ice and snow, our African penguins would never encounter snow in their natural habitat and are not fond of the cold weather.

Therefore, as the days get colder, their time outside is limited. And once the temperature drops below 37 degrees fahrenheit, our penguins do not go outside at all.

For a behind the scenes look at our indoor holding facilities and how our birds get there, check out this video:


–Kevin Blakely, Zoo Keeper

Bornean orangutan Bella and her parents Kumang and Denda have just been enrolled in an enriching research program where their decision-making and mathematical skills will be scientifically assessed on exhibit for Zoo guests to observe.

Bella, photo by Mike Wemett.

Bella, photo by Mike Wemett.

The University of Rochester Cognitive Sciences research lab of Dr Jessica Cantlon will be expanding its ongoing research with our olive baboon troop to include 36-year-old Kumang, 12-year-old Denda and 2-year-old Bella. Earlier this week, Denda demonstrated impressive finger and tongue dexterity skills in his first trial, starting with games and treats. The tasks will become more engaging and technical over time, advancing to double sided touch screens where Zoo guests will be able to watch the orangutans demonstrate cognitive skills.

Denda and Sara, one of Dr. Cantlon's research assistants. Photo by Dr. Jeff Wyatt

Denda and Sara, one of Dr. Cantlon’s research assistants. Photo by Dr. Jeff Wyatt.

“Bella is curious and playful,” says zoo keeper Mike Wemett. “As a zoo keeper, I have the privilege of watching her grow up and learn from her mother, and this research will track some of that development.”

Bella, photo by Mike Wemett.

Engaging science to better understand orangutan intelligence will help us advance novel approaches to designing new programs and exhibits that are stimulating and enriching.

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


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