Nurturing Conservation At The Seneca Park Zoo
Seneca Park Zoo, Rochester, NY
Sure all of us are committed to conservation and try to do what we can to help the cause, but is it enough? Our world is constantly changing and each year more and more species of plants and animals are showing up on the endangered species list. We as Docents are the front line to conservation education at our zoos and it is time to rethink our role and the part we play in this endeavor. Conservation is more than reduce, reuse, recycle. Yes this is an important part of conservation and has great impact, but We Can Do More!
Using the Seneca Park Zoo’s docent conservation committee as a template we will follow the steps on how a “small zoo” got involved in conservation projects around the world and in our own back yard.
Our conservation committee started with one person’s idea as most things do. Her inspiration came after attending the first Zoos Committing to Conservation Conference at the Columbus Zoo. This international conference meets every two years and presents a forum for zoo personnel, field researchers, and the many conservation-based organizations to meet, discuss and network on what they are doing and how we may help each other.
She was inspired to get further involved with conservation and brought her ideas home. With her newfound inspiration she approached the docents at large to form a committee that would look at what we could do for conservation. At that time we for the most part thought as conservation as recycling, but she had other ideas.
We formed our committee consisting of six docents. We also invited the zoo’s director, education manager and volunteer coordinator to join us. This was an important part to help us organize and give the zoo some buy-in as to what we wanted to achieve and also follow the zoo’s objective. After that we brainstormed and decided we would help two projects, one local and one international.
In picking the projects we felt it necessary to link the projects to the animals in our own collection. Also it should be one of the charismatic animals. This would help the public identify with the problems in the wild while we were doing our programming. Also play on their emotions, people will save what they know and love, if they don’t know gorillas it’s hard for them to save them. We also found that it would be easier to talk about an animal with it present than when it is not.
The first project we picked was the bog turtle reintroduction project. This project was brought to the zoo by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and is the most endangered turtle in New York. This project fit most of the criteria we had set, but we had no bog turtles in the collection. The D.E.C came through and donated turtles to the zoo for both exhibiting and for the release project. Our involvement came from donation of radio transmitters for the release and providing education programming on zoo grounds. We continued through the years with funding and educational support and this past spring we were asked to participate in field research cataloging species at the release sites. Our role in conservation has changed. We started as educators and became the researchers; we continue to learn, evolve and redefine our part in conservation.
The second project picked was our international project. After much research and compiling of information and milling over what we could do, we chose to align ourselves with the Madagascar Fauna Group. It also fit the criteria; we exhibit black and white ruffed lemurs which fit the charismatic part and we also at the time had Dumeril’s ground boas, hissing cockroaches, and tomato frogs to do our programming with. Since then we have added to the collection tree boas, tenrics, day geckos and radiated tortoises. The tenrics are used in our animal handling programming and the tortoises, which are on the SSP, were donated by Customs and were part of the black market pet trade. Another conservation message to send to the public.
Our involvement started with what we thought was a $1,000.00 donation to be matched by the zoo to become a member. To our surprise the zoo footed the whole bill and became a member. So we still had our money that was earmarked for the MFG. What to do. With the direction from Eve Sargent at the San Francisco Zoo we decided to invest in the children of Madagascar. The MFG was working on an education project at Parc Ivoloina teaching the importance of conservation and helping the children improve their reading and writing skills so that they could further their education. The class continues to grow and the percent of students that continue on to middle school increases every year. Now with the children in middle school, we are working with their local public schools in developing programming and educational materials. We have secured our role in in situ education.
With the direction of the docents and the zoo’s involvement in the MFG, they recently received an award from the AZA in recognition of the MFG’s lemur release.
So why do these organizations look to zoos for help? The answer is what we have to offer. You don’t have to make a large monetary donation to get involved. Look at your strengths; most of the organizations are under-staffed, lack funding and resources. Our zoo offers volunteer support, program development, housing, vet care, and media relations. The Seneca Park Zoo is also the largest single public draw in the Greater Rochester Metro Area. Not bad for a 14-acre zoo to host 400,000 visitors a year. Size and money are not the only things you have to offer. Of course it doesn’t hurt.
Now I have outlined how we got started and our involvement in the projects, now the work begins and bringing conservation home with the set up and implementation of special events, fundraising, and programming at our zoo that reach out to our public.
We conduct many events throughout the year that help to not only enhance our visitors’ experience, but also educate them on the importance of biodiversity.
Earth Day is the kickoff to our summer program schedule; it is a celebration of our planet and the plight it is in. Some of the programming done on Earth Day is an SSP scavenger hunt. Using clues given to the children, they need to find the thirteen animals on the hunt and get their paper stamped which is provided with a handout with information on the animal. At the completion of the hunt they put their name in for a drawing for a free zoo parent kit. Another program we offer is fishing for conservation. Using a plastic wading pool and fishing poles with magnets, the children fish for a conservation message printed on paper fish and a paper clip to hold it to the pole.
Discover Madagascar Day is held in June and highlights our involvement with the MFG and the animals at the zoo that are from there. Children at the front gate get an activity book they can use throughout the summer. And face painting is available for a donation to the MFG’s educational programming fund at Parc Ivoloina. We also have color the chameleon. Large chameleons are outlined on the walkways of the zoo and we let the children color them in using sidewalk chalk. In conjunction with Madagascar Day we run a textile drive. Visitors are asked to bring old clothes and other textiles which are sold to a textile company that either recycles the textiles or sends them to developing countries. Hmm, maybe some day we will see our old clothing in a National Geographic special. The money we raise also goes to the MFG.
Conservation Station is staffed throughout the summer months on Saturdays and Sundays; the visitors are drawn to the vet center and outside we let them get a look at the progress of the bog turtle, from the first stages of the animal’s life to the release, and also let them track the animals using radio telemetry. We also use this opportunity to teach them about wetlands preservation and the downfalls of introduced species.
Fragile wildernesses are our yearly outreach to help our friends at the New York State Living Museum in Watertown, New York. This event draws thousands of people from all over the North Country to their local community college. The event gives us the opportunity to impact ten thousand New Yorkers in one day and teach them about local as well as international conservation and how we all impact each other across the state.
Pen pal program This is used with a local school and the Saturday class at Parc Ivoloina. It allows the students to learn about the differences between the two cultures and each other’s local wildlife and the need to protect it. Also the troubles each other faces. In addition it helps with geography and betters their writing skills as well as teach them about other languages.
Butterflies Using the outline from Monarch Watch, the zoo raises the monarchs on zoo grounds and gets a display for the butterflies used to teach zoo visitors about them. The project is funded by local nursing homes and butterfly gardens are installed on their grounds by local Boy Scout troops improving the local environment for the butterflies. At the end of the season the butterflies at the zoo are tagged and released.
Local schools can follow their migration to Mexico via the internet. The benefits to this are community interaction between the Boy Scouts and the nursing homes and the opportunity for local schools to learn about the geography of the U.S. and Mexico. This project is also being used as a precursor to a Karner Blue Butterfly project, one of New York’s most endangered species of butterflies due to habitat loss.
In conclusion, this paper is not about what we did, but how we did it and to hopefully inspire you to do the same types of things at your zoos if you are not doing it already. Conservation does come with a price tag. Taking a realistic approach to in situ as well as ex situ conservation and building on your strengths is all that is asked. And with minimum funding you can succeed in these endeavors and make a difference. I leave you with one quote by Carol Perkins, widow of Marlin Perkins: “I’m not anyone I’m someone, I can’t do everything, but I can do something.” I thank you for your attention.