Where did the wolves go?

The three Mexican Wolves have moved down state, to the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) in South Salem, New York. It is located in the hills of southeastern New York near the Connecticut border. They house Mexican wolves as well as Red wolves, both of which are critically endangered species. The three brothers left the Zoo earlier this month.


The WCC came to pick them up with a large, air conditioned van that is specially designed to transport canines. They arrived at their new home late that same afternoon to a serenade of howling from the resident wolves.

Once they were unloaded, they had complete health checks ups, including physical exams, vaccines and blood samples. All three received a clean bill of health, and they were released onto WCC land under a beautiful sunset.

Video via Wolf Conservation Center

Right now, all three reside on their own acre of wooded land that is in a remote area. In the future, two of them will be relocating out to the Living Desert in Palm Springs, CA. Eventually, the other one will paired up with one of their female wolves, F1143, in the hopes that they breed and reproduce pups. Their offspring could be potential release candidates.

Although they will be missed by many people, they will provide an opportunity to help save this very valuable species as a whole. It was both an honor and a privilege to help take care of them for these past four and a half years.

All the keepers wish Durango, Diego and Chico well. They will forever be in our hearts.


–Heidi Beifus, Zoo Keeper

Update on Tiberius the lion

African lions Tiberius and his sister, Savannah, were born here at Seneca Park Zoo on March 6, 2013.  Last December, Tiberius was sent to the Buffalo Zoo to be a part of their breeding program, as recommended by the African Lion Species Survival Plan (SSP). I recently received an update from one of the zoo keepers who works with Tiberius in Buffalo.

Photo by Chris Frommer

She says he is just wonderful and has grown into a very handsome adult. He has been introduced to his two new pride mates, five-year-old half-sisters Lelie and Lusaka.

Photo by Chris Frommer

If you can make the trip, visit the Buffalo Zoo to see what an amazing adult our little cub has become.

I wish the Buffalo keeper staff all the best in their efforts to conserve this important species.

–Mary Ellen Sheets, Zoo Keeper

Photos by Chris Frommer

African penguins are an endangered species, and Seneca Park Zoo manages one of the leading breeding facilities for these birds in the world. African penguin chicks hatched at Seneca Park Zoo have been sent to 25 accredited zoos and aquariums across North America.

Photo by Walter Brooks

Photo by Walter Brooks

This month, more penguins were sent across the country in continuation of this program. We took the opportunity to ask General Curator David Hamilton some questions about how the breeding program works and why it’s so important for the future of African penguins:

How many penguins were sent from the Zoo this month? Where will they be living? Will they be breeding with other penguins there?

Four male penguins were sent to the Honolulu Zoo on October 6. The week after that, two went to the Turtle Back Zoo in New Jersey as well. These penguins may not have breeding recommendations in their new homes right away, but they most likely will eventually.

Photo by Kevin Blakely

Photo by Kevin Blakely

Why is it important to send penguins bred here at the Zoo to other institutions around the country?

If we were to just breed penguins here, we would pretty quickly fill up all our space and then wouldn’t be able to breed any more! Working with the other 48 institutions that house penguins provides more space and the ability to move animals around, which helps us continue with the project of building a sustainable population in conservation care.


Photo by Kelli O'Brien

Photo by Kelli O’Brien

Why are the genetics of the penguins bred here at the Zoo so special?

We have some good, diverse genetics here because we imported birds directly from South Africa when the exhibit first opened in 1997. Most importantly, we have had expert keeper and veterinary care for the colony that has enabled us to keep the colony going and productive for so many years.

Is there a certain time of year or a schedule for when the Zoo sends penguins elsewhere? Or are they being sent all the time?

We can’t send the penguins in extremely hot or cold conditions. So they typically leave here in the spring and fall. Because they molt (shed their feathers in the spring), that tends to push most of the transfers to the fall.

We have 11 penguins that are going to other zoos this year. They are going to the east coast, the deep south and all the way to Hawaii.

Photo by Mike Martinez

Photo by Mike Martinez

What is the ultimate goal of our penguin breeding program?

The ultimate goal is a long-term sustainable population that can maintain 90% genetic diversity for 100 years or longer.

Have questions about our flock? Ask them on Facebook or Twitter!

As the enrichment coordinator, I go shopping every few months for enriching food items for the animals at the Zoo. My goal is to purchase novel food items, spices, scents, and items to use for scattered feedings.

Photo by Sue Rea

Photo by Sue Rea

By providing the animals with these uncommon food items, we provide them with the opportunity to try something they may have never tasted or smelled before. Many of our animals are natural foragers, and by providing them with small food items in scattered feedings, we are able to encourage these species’ appropriate behaviors.

Some of these items include cereals, small pastas, grains, lentils, oats and seeds.  The animals and staff are very appreciative to everyone who participates in our ZooParent program for their generous donations that allow us to buy these special treats!

Several levels of ZooParents–Zoo Keeper, Senior Zoo Keeper, Zoologist and Zoo Curator–support this program. They help keep our animals healthy and strong through providing enrichment items that encourage physical and mental stimulation.    

ZooParent-Party-2015-Ceci-Menchetti--(32) ZooParent-Party-2015-Ceci-Menchetti--(56)

Last month, we had a party at the Zoo to thank ZooParents for their support, and collected an incredible amount of enrichment supplies that are already going to good use. Animal encounters, presentations and the friendly faces of more than 70 guests made it a very special evening. At the end of the night, we had accepted the largest collection of donated enrichment we have ever received!


If you’d like to help, you can always drop off items for the animals at any time. Unopened spices or extracts, flat sheets, newspapers and large cardboard tubes are always appreciated.

Call (585) 336-7212 to learn more about becoming a ZooParent


–Sue Rea, Zoo Keeper

Photos by Ceci Menchetti unless otherwise noted.

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


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