New York’s most endangered animal, the Chittenango Ovate Amber Snail (COAS), now has a new life support strategy preventing extinction. The COAS, which numbers at approximately 400, lives in only one place in the world–and is at risk of being wiped out with one catastrophic event (e.g. a rock slide). It has lived for thousands of years on one rocky ledge in the spray zone of Chittenango Falls, just 100 miles east of Rochester.

COAS with bee tag, courtesy of NYSDEC

Chittenango Falls

During the last two years, Cody Gilbertson, a graduate student at SUNY Environmental Sciences & Forestry (ESF), has developed a highly successful laboratory housing and breeding program with 100% survival of offspring over two generations numbering in the hundreds!

Cody Gilbertson, ESF graduate student, demonstrating laboratory care of COAS

Cody Gilbertson, ESF graduate student, demonstrating laboratory care of COAS

Seneca Park Zoo veterinary technician Robin English LVT, examines snail eggs

Seneca Park Zoo veterinary technician Robin English LVT examines snail eggs

At a recent Snail Summit held at an ESF laboratory, participants from United States Fish & Wildlife Service, NYS Parks Department, NY Department of Environmental Conservation, Rosamund Gifford Zoo and Seneca Park Zoo gathered to discuss the next steps for saving the COAS from extinction. These steps may include development of two additional ex situ laboratory breeding programs, supplementation of the current population with lab reared snails and consideration of translocation to another habitat.

Seneca Park Zoo resources have been devoted over the past fifteen years to participating in field surveys and leading the veterinary support of both in situ and ex situ initiatives. These successes and plans demonstrate the impact of and power of partnerships using science to save species from extinction.

Dr. Jeff Wyatt DVM, MPH, DACLAM, Director of Animal Health and Conservation

Photos by Dr. Wyatt unless otherwise noted.

When you walk through the Zoo, you might see a number of unexpected objects in the exhibits: cardboard boxes, paper lunch bags or even a plastic slide. These items are used for enrichment. As keepers, it’s our job to make sure the animals we care for stay healthy, both physically and mentally. By providing the animals with enrichment items, we can encourage them to behave as they would in the wild.

For example, by giving the tigers boxes with food inside, we hope to evoke the natural behaviors involved with hunting. They must find the boxes using their sense of smell, and then they have to work to get the food, using their claws and teeth the same way they would in nature. This helps keep their minds sharp and active.

Seeing an animal interact with their enrichment can be very exciting for our visitors! With our larger animals, their enrichment items are often very clear to see; it’s hard to miss the barrels hanging in the elephant barn or the termite mound in the orangutan exhibit.

But what do we do for smaller animals?

If you have been to the Zoo during the summer months, you may have had a chance to meet some of our education animals. These are animals that aren’t on exhibit, but rather come out for special programs where people are able to meet them up close. These are the same animals that are featured in our other education programs, such as ZooMobiles, ZooClasses and birthday parties. When they aren’t out on programs, it is my job to make sure they are receiving the same care as our other animals, and this includes providing them with (size appropriate) enrichment.

My favorite part of the day is coming up with new and exciting ways to exercise our education animals’ minds. When coming up with enrichment, I want to think about what the animal would do in the wild and try to bring that behavior out.


For example, our armadillo Doug loves to dig for insects. I sometimes will give him a huge pile of wood chips, pine shavings, and cat litter with mealworms tucked inside. To get the worms, he has to dig though the pile, which he does with enthusiasm.

IMG_0300Our hedgehogs and short-tailed opossum also love to forage for insects. By hanging paper towel tubes in their enclosures with meal worms inside, we encourage interaction with their surroundings.

While food is always a good motivator for an animal to get active, it’s not the only way to enrich an animal. Sometimes a bag filled with paper is enough, or a box sprayed with perfume.  The unfamiliar scent is interesting and therefore will encourage exploration. Plus, boxes and paper bags make great new hiding places. Changing the arrangement of their enclosure or adding new furniture can be a great form of enrichment as well.


There is never a slow day working at the Zoo, and making sure the animals have the opportunity to use their minds is one of our many responsibilities (it’s also one of the best). It’s a chance for the animals to express themselves and a chance for us to really get to know each animal’s personality on an individual level.

Big or small, enrichment is a vital part of the day for every animal at the Z

–Hannah Comstock, Zoo Keeper

Update on the Wolves

Many people came to know and love the Mexican wolves during their four and a half years spent at our Zoo. I get asked on a daily basis where they are and/or how they are doing. The short answer is they are doing great!

The three brothers left our Zoo in November for the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, New York. They lived together for almost a month before Durango and Chico headed out west in December. They moved to The Living Desert in Palm Desert, California, and are adjusting to life there very well.



Diego, aka “the dark one” and M1059, stayed on at the WCC in NY state to hopefully breed with one of their females, F1143. He is 8 years old and she is 7 years old, and they share the same birthday, April 22nd. Neither one of them had ever lived with any other wolves before, other than their own families.

Diego’s Mate

About a week after Diego’s brothers left him, they started the introductions to his new potential mate. Their enclosure is a full acre of wooded land with a fence through the middle dividing it in half. To begin the intros, he was on one half and she was on the other, so they could get to know each other slowly. Everything progressed in the right direction so, after a few weeks, they opened up the gates between them so they could have full access to each other. So far, so good!

Diego and his mate

Diego’s younger half-brother and his new mate live in another enclosure there, and they are recommended for breeding this year as well. All of their genes are very valuable among the Mexican Grey Wolf population, so hopefully there will be two litters of pups there this spring. All of them would be considered as potential release candidates in the future.

In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed, and if you want any further information, visit nywolf.org

–Heidi Beifus, Zoo Keeper

Photos courtesy of Wolf Conservation Center

How old are the baboons?

We have a troop of 12 baboons that have resided here at Seneca Park Zoo since 2008.  I have helped take care of these baboons for more than 5 years and as many of you know, the years tend to blur together after a while. So, when a visitor recently asked me how old some of our baboons were, I realized I didn’t remember their exact ages anymore! Have you ever wondered how old the baboons were?

Photo by Marissa Smithler

Photo by Marissa Smithler

Luckily, as part of our jobs, we keep medical records and protocols on all of our animals here at the Zoo, so finding the information I was looking for was pretty easy! There are 7 female baboons in our troop. Pimiento is the oldest at 22 years of age. She is easily identified because she has a very stocky build and always is sticking her tongue out!

Photo by Wendy Recchia

Photo by Wendy Recchia

Is 22 years old for a baboon? Pimiento would be considered just over middle aged, as a baboon’s life expectancy is mid 20s. The next oldest is Ursala at age 18 and then Pearl at 16. Our large alpha male of the troop, Mansino, is now 11 years old. He became the alpha male very early on due to lack of competition, at about 5 or 6 years of age. In the wild, males between the ages of 6 and 8 would begin to challenge each other for the alpha position and the rights to the females.

The other half of the troop are of similar ages. There are three females and two males that are all 8 years old. Three of these 8 year olds are the offspring of the three elder females mentioned earlier.

Lastly, some of you may remember three babies being born in 2011. Olivella, Samson and Pico de Limon are now 4 and a half. They are the offspring of the three 8 year old females and the alpha male, Mansino.

Photo by Joe Spandrusyszyn

Photo by Joe Spandrusyszyn

Watching the baboons grow up has been very rewarding to me. Their personalities are all unique and continue to develop every day. Their social structure is constantly affected and ever-changing as every single baboon ages.  It is amazing how quickly the time has gone, watching the babies turn into juveniles and juveniles into adults with babies of their own.  I’m sure everyone can relate to that!


–Jenna Bovee, Zoo Keeper

We are so lucky at Seneca Park Zoo to have so many beautiful and amazing animals to get to know.  From our African elephants and Bornean orangutans, to our golden frogs and the helmeted guinea fowl.  Being a zookeeper, I get to work with many different animals and each one has a special place in my heart.  People often ask which one is my favorite.  I can never pick one, but I can’t write a blog long enough to talk about them all, so this time I’ll tell you about the guinea fowl. They are particularly fun to be around. We call them Edward and Percival, and they have a lot to say.

Photo by Lori Warner

Photo by Lori Warner

Guinea fowl are native to Africa (ours are locals). In their natural range, they are found in several types of habitats, but prefer open and shrub grasslands. They are monogamous, but can live in flocks of hundreds of individuals. They eat a wide variety of seeds, fruits, insects and occasionally small rodents.  They get their “helmet” from a bony protrusion on top of their heads called a casque. They can often live into their teens. They are not listed as endangered or vulnerable in the wild. They are adaptable.

Photo by Walter Brooks

Photo by Walter Brooks

Edward and Percival, like all guinea fowl, spend most of the day foraging for food and running around on the ground. They can fly, but choose to stay on the ground and usually only fly when threatened. They can roost up off the ground at night. They like the variety of seeds and fruits and vegetables we give them daily. They get especially excited when we offer them insects, which we give them in different ways. Sometimes, we will just put a bunch in their straw for them to dig around and find. Other times, they are put in a tube and will randomly jump out, so Edward and Percival don’t know when to expect them. Their favorite bugs are crickets. They become extremely vocal when they find bugs to eat.

Photo by Walter Brooks

Photo by Walter Brooks

Because guinea fowl are so gregarious, they are also very good communicators. They have to be in order to keep the flock together, to let each other know when there is especially good food around, and to keep each other safe from predators. Ours make quiet noises all day long back and forth to each other. They get louder when food is found and they can make some noise if they feel threatened.  This is usually heard if a hawk flies over them.  Edward and Percival will alert call, a specific call made when there is a threat nearby and stick close to each other. They do this instinctively even though they are safe and don’t have to worry about hawks at the Zoo.

Photo by Bill Kerr

Photo by Bill Kerr

Edward and Percival are fun to be around because they are so curious.  Zookeepers provide enrichment for the animals daily.  The guinea fowl are always immediately curious about any enrichment provided. It doesn’t have to be too complicated or elaborate. A new kind of bowl, new bedding, dirt, rocks, bark chips, corn on the cob, large leaves of kale hung up on their branches, and of course the crickets, are all things that keep them busy and their brains working hard.

I think that they are also fun to be around because they seem to be curious about people, too. They always seem to watch and pay attention to all of the guests who stop by and visit them every day.  They are active and easy for everyone to see and interact with and enjoy, so next time you’re at the Zoo, please don’t forget to stop by and visit Edward and Percival!

–Lori Warner, zoo keeper

Keeping up with the leaves

Being a member of the animal care staff at Seneca Park Zoo entails so much more than just feeding, cleaning and enriching our animals. While those things take up the majority of the day, we are also responsible for keeping the areas around and in our exhibits looking their best.

During the fall, we try to manage the leaves within the enclosures and our maintenance and facilities departments work on the rest of the zoo. Our goal is to have all the leaves raked and cleaned up before the snow falls.

This year, we teamed up to clear all the leaves from out of the Mexican Wolf enclosure. The keepers brought the rakes and the maintenance and facilities guys brought the “leaf sucker” and the tools to take apart the fence. The leaf sucker is a large, boxed-in truck with a large tube that sucks up piles of leaves.

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Because we all worked together, the entire project only took 20 minutes. Alone, it would have taken many, many trips in and out of the exhibit with large bins. This would have taken hours, and we most definitely wouldn’t have finished it all in a day. Teamwork saved the day, and we even had a little fun at the same time!

–Kellee Wolowitz, Assistant Curator

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


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