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

Recently this year I was asked to help out a few of our ZooTeen Leaders by getting footage of the otters to be used in a conservation film.

Jack Fox, Aditya Tangirala and Eli Wipf then put together this video to educate people about the importance of the river otter to local ecosystems.

Our two female river otters, Heather and Sara helped by hamming it up for the camera and showing off their natural behaviors!



ZooTeen Leaders have  submitted their film to the Rochester Teen Film Festival. Finalists’ videos will be screened at 5:30 p.m on Wednesday, August 5, 2015 on the main screen at the Little Theatre in downtown Rochester. Good luck to the ZooTeen Leaders and we hope to see you at the festival!


—Catina Wright, Otter Keeper

In the fall of 2014, the Zoo’s fire-bellied toads were getting a new home located in the Oak classroom in the Z.O.T Zone. The idea was to give them a more natural habitat through a BOCES distance learning program.


Photo by Ceci Menchetti

The class would research the needs of the fire-bellied toads (Bombina orientalis), sketch out a design for an exhibit, and then build the exhibit to the specs that the team came up with. The kids learned about the natural behaviors of the toads and made sure that parts of the design to encourage these behaviors were included in the exhibit. Soon after, the toads moved into their new home.

DSC00761 - Version 2

Photo by John Adamski

The exhibit was a little over five times bigger than the previous one with new, improved habitat features. It incorporated a land area with moss, live plants, and plenty of hiding spots, including a coconut shell. There was a small waterfall which gently spilled flowing water back into a larger water area than they have ever had before.

There were plenty of vines tangled around the exhibit, too. The frogs were often hiding, but could be seen from time to time going from one side of the exhibit to the other. At feedings, they would always come out in the open.

DSC00770 - Version 2

Photo by John Adamski

The new exhibit, with all of the great features, created some unexpected results: it made it harder for educators to locate the toads to take on education programs. The waterfall was sometimes getting taken apart to gain access to them. So in an effort to simplify, we decided to buy a one piece waterfall with the pump housed inside. In order for the pump to run, we had to raise the water level a couple of inches higher than normal. Once the waterfall was in place and working, it made it much easier for educators to access the toads.

The water level rise also had another unforeseen consequence. The toads started to breed! They were often seen in amplexus, a type of mating behavior exhibited by some externally fertilizing species. Soon after, they laid their first clutch of eggs on May 13, 2015.

DSC00769 - Version 2

Photo by John Adamski

The tadpoles in the eggs quickly developed, and within a few days they were moving inside the eggs. A few days later they would all hatch and were about one centimeter in length. The tadpoles grew quickly!

I’ve read that fire-bellied toads take from one to five months to make the transformation into froglets. Ours have taken a little less than a month! The change in water level must have triggered the toads to start breeding. Who knew that such a subtle change in their life could make such a big difference!


John Adamski, Assistant Curator

Kira Hydock is an AAB Pre-Veterinary Fellow in Seneca Park Zoo‘s five-week, funded research and clinical fellowship for pre-vet college students this year. The AAB Pre-Veterinary program exposes fellows to animal medicine and conservation through the completion of a research project, observation of clinical procedures and rotations through animal care facilities and laboratories. Read on for the second installment of Kira’s blog posts about her experience at the Zoo this summer:

Baoons Pico-de-Limon (left), Olivella (back) and Kalamata (front). Photo by Kira Hydock

Baoons Pico-de-Limon (left), Olivella (back) and Kalamata (front). Photo by Kira Hydock

I could write about so many exciting things that happen every day, but the general theme for this week was “family planning” with the neutering of two male baboons, Pico-de-Limon and Samson, and the implantation of a contraceptive under the skin of one female, Sabina. After three female baboons had babies four years ago at an unexpectedly young age, the decision was made to introduce a contraceptive program, which would also reduce conflict within the troop by preventing the females from coming into swell (the outward signs of heat characterized by swollen and red rear end). Planned breeding and contraceptive programs are an important component of zoo medicine, both for the welfare of the animals on exhibit and for the health of the species in general.  Unplanned pregnancies can disrupt social order and create a situation in which one or several animals must be housed separately or transported to a different zoo. From a broader perspective, breeding programs like the AZA’s Species Survival Plan® (SSP) Program are essential for the maintenance of endangered and threatened species in captivity, which, according to AZA, ultimately contribute to conservation projects in the field.

Dr. Wyatt performing a contraceptive procedure on Pico-de-Limon with Kira Hydock monitoring heart rate. Photo by Randi Conway

Dr. Wyatt performing a contraceptive procedure on Pico-de-Limon with Kira Hydock monitoring heart rate. Photo by Randi Conway

Assisting in the baboons’ procedures was not only significant for me in that I learned a lot about breeding programs of animals in conservation care, but also because they were the first surgeries on zoo animals that I have ever observed. It was a unique and incredible experience to support Zoologist Robin English and Director of Animal Health and Conservation Dr. Wyatt throughout the process, and to monitor the effects of the anesthetic drugs through regular measurement of heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, and other vital parameters. I cannot thank them enough for offering me such an amazing opportunity! Look out for more of Kira’s stories about her AAB Pre-Veterinary fellowship on the Seneca Park Zoo Keeper Blog this summer!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.