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This weekend: Red Wings Zoo Jersey Night and a birthday party for Bill the rhino

The weather may be getting cooler as Labor Day approaches, but there’s still plenty of summer left to enjoy at your Zoo!

Tonight, August 28, join us at Frontier Field for Zoo Jersey Night with the Rochester Red Wings. The Wings will wear special Bat-themed jerseys which will be auctioned during the game with proceeds benefiting the Seneca Park Zoo Society.

Photo courtesy of Rochester Red Wings

Photo courtesy of Rochester Red Wings

Enjoy fireworks, giveaways, an autograph session with “Catwoman” Julie Newmar, an appearance by the Batmobile and more.  You can purchase tickets here.

And on Saturday, August 29, head to the Zoo for our Rhino birthday celebration. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., chat with keepers and learn more about what you can do to help save this endangered species from extinction, and wish Bill the white rhino a very happy birthday!

Photo by Marie Kraus

All summer, a daily schedule of hourly programs has been engaging visitors and enhancing their Zoo experience. Visit the Zoo this week and enjoy a keeper chat or animal experience while you still can–Summer Programs, sponsored by McDonald’s, end on Labor Day!

Photo by Ceci Menchetti

Photo by Ceci Menchetti

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Get to know Snakes and Friends and stay late for last time this summer at your Zoo

Tomorrow, Saturday, August 22, Seneca Park Zoo celebrates Snakes and Friends Day. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., meet New York’s reptiles and amphibians and learn how the Zoo fits into the picture when it comes to conservation.

Photo by Kelli O’Brien

Stations throughout the Zoo will feature biofacts and information about a variety of species including snakes, alligators, turtles and tortoises, frogs and lizards.

Learn about our regional conservation efforts with the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, how frogs can serve as environmental indicators of pollution and health hazards, why tortoises are better left in their natural range and lots of other cool facts about gila monsters, alligators and other species.

Photo by Kelli O’Brien

Enjoy keeper chats, learn about all the ways reptiles and amphibians help create viable ecosystems and see why these animals are so beloved by visitors and staff alike.

The fun doesn’t stop when the weekend ends: Tuesday, August 25, is your last chance this summer to stay late at the Zoo during open late Tuesday. Gates remain open until 7:30 p.m. and you can stay on grounds until 8:30 p.m., making it the perfect weeknight activity for your busy family or group of friends.

Photo by Ceci Menchetti

With a theme of “Discover,” the evening will feature opportunities to practice citizen science with the help of experts. Learn about the Zoo’s ongoing initiative to assess the biodiversity of the Genesee River, One Cubic Foot, and make your own to model the project in your backyard.

Photo by Ceci Menchetti

Wildlife experts will also be on grounds to teach guests how to identify everything from invertebrates, birds, mammals, and reptiles and amphibians.

So whether you spend the day befriending snakes or the evening discovering science, we hope to see you soon!

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David Liittschwager on One Cubic Foot and citizen science

One Cubic Foot has officially made it to the Genesee River! Photographer and environmentalist David Liittschwager and his team have been out on the river all week scouting the most biodiverse location for the one cubic foot frame and observing all the different species that move in and out of it in the equivalent of a 24-hour period. Soon, they will begin photographing and DNA bardcoding their findings and exhibiting the results.

We caught up with David right before his arrival in Rochester to learn more about how One Cubic Foot began and how it will adapt itself to the Genesee.

Q: This is the first time you are partnering with a Zoo to bring One Cubic Foot to a new environment. What about the Seneca Park Zoo Society and the environment of the Genesee River made you decide that it should be the next location for the project?

A: I am excited to collaborate with the Seneca Park Zoo Society to explore how much life we can find in one cubic foot of the Genesee River. I look forward to learning about the recovery of the river and appreciate the Zoo Society’s program that is making my participation possible.

The fact that the Zoo wants to make an exhibit and engage the community, continuing the project over time—that is just fantastic. It’s the first time that the project will be done in such a focused way in the community. Having the Zoo Society carry it forward is very exciting.

Q: Do you go into each new project with an idea of what you hope to find? What kind of research do you do leading up to placing the one cubic foot in a new habitat?

A: I just try to find the most diverse spot in the location. But environmental damage suppresses diversity. So we are going to try to find the most diverse spot along the river that we can.

Q: One Cubic Foot has both artistic and environmental goals. Did the project come about from your desire to create these unique photographs, and the scientific process followed, or vice versa?

A: My primary agenda is to show how beautiful the world is. That is born out of the fact that I don’t think I’m going to motivate anybody new by showing how damaged the world is. There is a place for pictures of damage—I spent 20 years photographing things on the endangered species list, so I’m quite familiar with the idea of damage. But the world is not used up. We’re in a position where we get to decide what we get to take with us into the future, and I think we will only take the things that we know exist and the things that we care about.

Q: So you’re conscious of presenting people with a positive image in order to inspire them to protect it?

A: I want to show people that nature is cool—to make it their idea that this thing is worth having. People don’t really like being preached at, and you can explain all of the intellectual reasons why we should conserve diversity, but some of them are pretty far out. If you explain to a young person that you don’t want to suppress diversity because it’s our storehouse for novel molecules that may be helpful for medications in the future, and at the same time this person sees the effects of climate change doing damage in a much shorter time period, they’ll be kind of indifferent—they’ll think, what about this other problem? We have a lot of problems, and you can get ground down thinking about all of them. But if the creature is cool and the place is their backyard, or someplace nearby that they can get to, then the view shifts to, “Well, while we’re trying to deal with all these other problems, let’s take care of what’s still here, still in our neighborhood.”

Q: How did you decide on the one cubic foot shape when you first began this project?

A: I started it because I wanted to show how much life occurs in a small place and in different small places. And in order for them to be comparable, I needed to use the same sample size. Since I work for National Geographic, I knew the experience of having the magazine open in your lap. Those measurements are 10 by 14 inches; round them out and that is about the size of the 12-inch cube. So I knew that what I wanted to show people could fit in that space—not literally, but emotionally. It was a manageable, personal sample size. It fits in your lap, you can put your arms around it. It’s on a human scale.


Q: What have you learned as your process has evolved over the years?

A: The original plan was to go to five different locations and finish the project in two weeks at each location, but I was never able to finish in only two weeks because as soon as you start looking carefully, there’s more and more and more. The first spot that I did, I stopped tracking things that were smaller than 2 millimeters—anything smaller than that I didn’t include. And the counts of the numbers of creatures that we thought existed in the cube over the course of a normal day were maybe 1,000. But the first time we put the cube in the water, there was all the plankton passing through, and the species count went up to 15 to 20,000 creatures per hour that were passing through. And then underneath the Golden Gate Bridge I found that if you go even smaller and include species like diatoms, the number escalates to 2.6 billion creatures—all of which you can see with the naked eye. So it turns out that the numbers get huge when you start to really look, especially when you’re in a habitat with a current.

The Genesee might have a current. We’re probably going to put the cube on a bank or a log—but we don’t know where we’ll find the best spot yet. So it’s going to be fun. It’s an adventure.

Q: What kinds of factors will determine exactly where you choose to place the one cubic foot frame?

Diversity, attractiveness, variety, accessibility, safety. And if I can avoid making too much of a mess.

Q: A kind of “leave no trace” approach?

A: I don’t think “leave no trace” is possible because a 170 pound mammal can’t do that—unless you only stay on the concrete path. That’s just the physicality of being a large animal. But I wouldn’t put the cube in a place where if we wanted to sift the soil it would create an instant erosion problem. I would choose a different spot. I choose spots where things will recover quickly, in short order and without a lot of trouble.

Q: Would you recommend a similar approach for budding citizen scientists?

A: I think it’s perfectly fine for a person, especially a child, to go out in the forest and turn over a log or two and see what cool critters are there. I think that is more worthwhile than not knowing that there are cool things under logs. It is much better to know that the world is a more interesting place.

Some people might have such a hands-off attitude that they would frown at somebody flipping a log to look at the creatures underneath. I think human beings have such power in the world, we can even change the atmosphere. And the only thing that’s going to make us not want to change things too much is if we care enough about the consequences. I think flipping a log and learning about what lives under there is one of the only ways to find out how fantastic the world is—and why we might not want to change it too much.

Q: Any other advice?

A: If you do flip a log in the forest, when you’re done, turn it back over carefully so that the next person can see something cool, too!


Hear more about how everything went out on the river at the One Cubic Foot lecture at the George Eastman House on August 20, where David will be giving a lecture on his work documenting biodiversity around the world. Get tickets here.

And learn how to become a citizen scientist at our last two open late Tuesdays of the summer, August 18 and 25! As the project continues with exhibitions and events, you can find updated information here.


Photos by Pamela Reed Sanchez

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Zoo volunteers help stop invasive species

Water Chestnut was first seen in the United States in 1859.  It is a fast growing aquatic annual that has a stem that can grow to 15 feet long. The stem has long fine roots that grab and hold on to mud very well.  On the surface a fast expanding rosette blocks the sun to other native plants below the surface.  Once established it can reduce oxygen levels increasing the chances of fish kill.

US Fish and Wildlife service has a group of employees that organize the pulling and disposal of water chestnut and other invasive species throughout the year.  Water chestnut has to be harvested before it seeds in order to keep spreading to a minimum.

On Tuesday, August 4, Seneca Park Zoo took part in a USFWS organized pull near Gibbs Marina.  A large mat of water chestnut had taken hold of a small area behind the Spirit of Rochester.  Volunteers took to canoes and kayaks to gently pull the stems out of the mud to remove the entire plant.

By lunchtime, around 30 bags were filled and hauled off for disposal, and the surrounding area had been canvased.  No other local populations were found, but invasive species are more and more of a threat.  Non-native plant and animal species threaten the balance of an ecosystem.

What can you do?

If you see an invasive, report it to:

Invasive Species Coordination Unit
Division of Lands & Forests
625 Broadway, 5th Fl
Albany, NY 12233-4756


New York Invasive Species Information
New York State PRISM


–Photos and blog by Tom Snyder, Director of Programming and Conservation Action

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Talking One Cubic Foot with Zoo Society Executive Director Pamela Reed Sanchez

Tomorrow, photographer and environmentalist David Liittschwager arrives in Rochester to begin his project One Cubic Foot in the Genesee River, in collaboration with the Seneca Park Zoo Society and about 35 community and regional partner organizations. In anticipation of this months-in-the-making initiative, we spoke with Zoo Society Executive Director Pamela Reed Sanchez about the origins of the Zoo’s partnership with Liittschwager, the health of the Genesee and all the ways you can learn about #OneCubicFoot in the next few weeks.

Pamela Reed Sanchez

Pamela Reed Sanchez

Q: How did the idea to bring One Cubic Foot to the Genesee River begin? Why is now the right time for the Zoo Society to partner on an effort like this?

A: I learned of David’s work last fall and fell in love with the concept and his photographs. We started thinking about using One Cubic Foot as a way to have visitors explore the biodiversity of the ecosystems we represent here at the Zoo, including Borneo, Madagascar, Africa, and the Genesee River. We’re in the process of creating a new interactive space at the Zoo called the Center of Biodiversity Exploration, and we wanted to use “One Cubic Foot” as an organizing theme. So I contacted David to ask for permission, told him of our plans and of the work the Zoo has been doing for decades to reintroduce native species such as North American river otters and lake sturgeon to the Genesee River.

David was thrilled to hear of our interest in his project and of our efforts in the Genesee, and he offered to come to Rochester this summer to replicate the project in the Genesee. As David has partnered with the Smithsonian Institute numerous times, it was natural for us to also bring in research zoologists from the Smithsonian to assist in DNA bar-coding. From there, we began enlisting the support of like-minded organizations in the region and suddenly we had a Community Advisory Committee of more than 35 people representing as many organizations committed to river health.

Photo courtesy of David Liittschwager

Q: What does the Zoo Society hope to accomplish by not only executing One Cubic Foot while David Liittschwager is here, but also continuing the impact of the event for months to come through photo exhibitions, lectures and other events? How exactly is the Zoo Society planning to do this?

A: We have many goals for this project. We hope to gain scientific knowledge of the biodiversity of species in the river that could provide information helpful to removing the Genesee River from the EPA’s Area of Concern list.  We hope to foster a sense of regional pride in the Genesee — a river once rife with pollution that is now teeming with life again, thanks to the efforts of many individuals and organizations. We hope to inspire Rochesterians to reconnect with nature through actively monitoring the environment and participating in formal and informal citizen science programs. With the help of our partners, we will be creating curriculum for school children and nature programs for families and adults related to One Cubic Foot, and we will be replicating the project next summer in numerous spots along the Genesee River.

This fall, you’ll see the One Cubic Foot project represented at numerous community events, such as River Romance, on special cruises of the Sam Patch, at a public lecture hosted by the Audubon Society (November 16 at the Brighton Town Hall), and more. Our next big public event is David’s lecture on his past work, being held at George Eastman House on at 6 p.m. on August 20. Next February, his work in the Genesee River will be the subject of an exhibition at Rochester Contemporary Art Center (RoCo) at the same time the Zoo prototypes the Center for Biodiversity Exploration.

Q: Why is the Genesee worthy of being the next environment on the One Cubic Foot list, which has included exotic international and famous locations? 

A: Some might consider the north-flowing Genesee the perfect location, given the path it provides for many migratory birds and animals. Add to that the work that has been done to clean up the river and reintroduce native species and you have the makings of a mystery novel: what will we find in One Cubic Foot of the Genesee River?

The concept behind One Cubic Foot has little to do with exotic animals and locales. It is aimed at educating people about the range of animals and plants that coexist in very small places, and then having them think about what that means on a global scale. But first, they have to care about the small stuff.

David’s goal is to have people replicate this project on their own, and we will be sharing his video tutorials and having workshops on how to create your own One Cubic Foot at the Zoo (including at Open Late Night Tuesday, August 25).

Photo courtesy of David Liittschwager

Photo courtesy of David Liittschwager

Q: Why was it important to you to partner with other community organizations on this effort? How has the Community Advisory Board shaped the evolution of One Cubic Foot since the idea was first presented?

A: When I first began talking about One Cubic Foot, I noticed that people were surprised to learn of the role the Zoo has played in regional conservation, and I began to learn how many people have a vested interest in the health of the river. Taking on the project without partners would have been foolish, as together we can accomplish more and bring the message about river health and sustainability to a much broader audience.

Our Advisory Committee members have helped identify resources of all kinds, from financial  support to scientific expertise, to the use of boats while David is on the river. Their enthusiastic ideas about community programming have helped shape the ongoing life of the project. It was the Community Advisory Board that suggested replicating the project in six places along the river in 2016.

Q: What has it been like for you to go out into the community and talk with people about One Cubic Foot as part of the Street Team of volunteers that has been active all summer?

A: The word that comes to mind is validation. I could have never predicted last fall that my fascination with One Cubic Foot would catch fire. Using art to connect people with the environment is very gratifying for me. Art provides us with “Aha!” moments that allow us to see the world a little differently. David’s photography is exquisite, and people of all ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds instantly connect with it. And when they find out he’s coming to Rochester, they kind of stand a little taller.  They want to know what he’s going to find in that river.

Photo by Ceci Menchetti

Photo by Ceci Menchetti

Environmental conservation is a pretty serious topic and for people who don’t know much about it, it can be intimidating as a subject. But when you introduce them to the concept of One Cubic Foot, they just smile and they get it. And then we can deliver the messages about how to keep that river clean so that animals and plants can thrive.

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This weekend: One Cubic Foot Street Team at the Public Market & Park Ave Fest

In August, the Seneca Park Zoo Society is partnering with photographer David Liittschwager and many local and regional organizations to assess the biodiversity and health of the Genesee River through an initiative called One Cubic Foot.

Photo courtesy of David Liittschwager

Photo courtesy of David Liittschwager

Once declared one of the United States’ most polluted rivers, the Genesee is making a comeback. By providing invaluable scientific information and baseline data regarding the plant and animal species now living the in the Genesee, One Cubic Foot heightens awareness of water quality and other environmental issues in the river.

David Liittschwager and his team will photograph every species that enters a one cubic foot frame placed in the river during the equivalent of a 24-hour period, creating individual portraits of the plant life and creatures that inhabit one tiny piece of the world.

Photo courtesy of David Liittschwager

Photo courtesy of David Liittschwager

The Zoo has gathered a group of energetic volunteers who are eager to spread the word about this important initiative to form a Street Team that informs the public about One Cubic Foot. This weekend, they will be out in full force at two of the Rochester community’s biggest attractions: the Rochester Public Market on Saturday, August 1 and Park Avenue Summer Art Fest Saturday, August 1 and Sunday, August 2.

Photo by Ceci Menchetti

Photo by Ceci Menchetti

The One Cubic Foot Street Team is easy to spot: they’ll be the ones near the giant neon-green cube! Stop by to say hello and learn more about this project and why it is so important to protect the biodiversity of the Genesee River.

And don’t miss all of the One Cubic Foot events happening throughout August as this exciting project gets underway. Join us for David Liittschwager’s lecture at the George Eastman House on August 20 and other engaging programs during open late Tuesdays on August 18 & 25.

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Party Mad preparations: Learning from Rochester native Dr. Patricia Wright

Lemur expert Dr. Patricia Wright has had a strong partnership with Seneca Park Zoo for more than 15 years. The relationship began when she approached the Zoo about making a film about conservation. Dr. Jeff Wyatt, the Zoo’s Director of Animal Health and Conservation, gave her a tour of the Zoo and shortly thereafter, a partnership was formed. Soon, Dr. Wyatt was helping Dr. Wright and hergraduate students capture sifaka lemurs in Madagascar, giving them medical check-ups and identification collars. It wasn’t long after that Dr. Wright began to work with the Zoo Society’s docent volunteers to raise funds for conservation and education in Madagascar. It was through this partnership that Party Madagascar was born. And the rest, they say, is history.

Recently, Dr. Wright talked with us about her passion for lemurs, her respect for the Zoo’s work and what people can do to help for the summer issue of ZooNooz. As Party Madagascar approaches on July 25, we’re sharing the conversation again here.

Courtesy of Dr. Patricia Wright

Q: Proceeds from Party Madagascar fund a number of conservation efforts in Madagascar. How have they been most impactful?
A: The MicroceBUS, a minivan we purchased with Zoo funds, has been a godsend. Not only have we taken kids to the forest in it, we also use it for transporting our staff to distant villages as they work in health, education and reforestation.
Reforestation: 22 schools have tree nurseries. Each child has three trees to care for and measure in the nursery, and at the end of the school year, they plant the endemic species of trees and fruit trees back home where they can take care of them into the future. We have planted more than 20,000 trees to date, and some of the first trees (planted) are fruiting and flowering after 15 years.

This makes a big impact, as the papaya and peach fruit trees are bearing fruits for eating and selling, and the endemic species are attracting native birds and maybe someday even lemurs. Some of these species are good for construction wood and are big enough now to be used in house-building. The idea is to give the Malagasy people trees that are useful so they don’t have to go into the forest to cut trees.

Conservation Clubs and Saturday Classes: Seneca Park Zoo has been funding our 15 conservation clubs, which work with the community to do projects like recycling, mulching, composting and encouraging music and dance by organizing social events with a nature theme.

Radio Nature: Getting the conservation word out to distant communities has always been a challenge, and radio programs with stories and songs about wildlife have been very successful.


Photo by Kelli O’Brien

Q: As a past attendee of Party Madagascar, what would you say makes this party so special? What is your most memorable experience at the event?
A: The docent party brings Madagascar to Rochester. Madagascar is a lively, friendly, amazing place and the party brings that spirit locally. One of my favorite memories is when my close friend from high school showed up at the party, and the next year it was another friend and her daughter. It’s fun to see people from ancient times in my hometown at the party. My favorite veterinarian, Jeff Wyatt, always has special stories from the Zoo, and I catch him up on what is going on in Madagascar.

Q: You didn’t begin your career a primatologist. What attracted you to lemurs?
A: It was a circuitous path that led me to the lemurs. Lemurs are beautiful animals that are like nothing else. Someone once called a ringtailed lemur “a raccoon made in Paris.” The variety of lemurs is so diverse, from the little mouse lemur to the odd and quirky aye-aye to the operatic indri, to the leaping, dancing sifakas. Lemurs only come from Madagascar and there are over 100 kinds. I first learned to love lemurs at the Duke University Primate Center, and I traveled to Madagascar to find a species that we feared was extinct. It wasn’t extinct, thank

Photo by Mai

Photo by Marie Kraus

Q: What would you like people to know about lemurs and their importance in their habitat?
A: I want people to know that many lemurs are close to extinction and highly endangered. We don’t want to lose “our ancient cousins” and I am so grateful for Seneca Park Zoo helping to save them.

Q: If you could tell people one thing about saving species and the importance of conservation what would it be?
A: Each person can make a difference in saving species, but starting today and not waiting until tomorrow is prime.


–Elizabeth Roach, Community Engagement Coordinator

This article first appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of ZooNooz, the Zoo’s quarterly newsletter. 


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