ROCHESTER — For many of the CSEA members who are zoologists, zookeepers and animal husbandry experts at Monroe County’s Seneca Park Zoo, connecting with exotic animals and ensuring they are well cared for is a labor of love.
They also report working at the zoo is exactly where they want to be.
“The Seneca Park Zoo is one of the best attractions around, and my fellow employees work tirelessly at making sure the animals receive superior care and the visitor experience is first class,” said Kristen Miles-Pavia, the zoo’s aquatic life support supervisor.
Strict safety measures
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the Seneca Park Zoo was closed to the public mid-March until June 28, though zoo employees continued to ensure the animals’ care. After reopening, zoo operations came back stronger than ever to host eager families looking for an outdoor escape. While the Seneca Park Zoo has remained open to the public since the reopening, to ensure the health and safety of the animals, guests and staff, a limited number of people are admitted each day. To minimize overcrowding, timed-admission online tickets must be purchased before entry. Visitors follow a one-way route through the zoo to help maintain physical distancing, and some buildings are still closed to the public. The zoo is also following cleaning and sanitation measures recommended by the CDC.
Visitors over age 2 are required to wear face coverings, as well as all CSEA staff and volunteers. Zoo officials say animals such as lions, snow leopards, otters, red pandas and even giraffes have proven to be susceptible to COVID-19, so face coverings are an important part of keeping the animals and the zoo employees safe.
Government and zoo officials say the new safety policies are working well.
“We are rethinking opening up some of the hands-on interactive exhibits as we inch back to normalcy,” Miles-Pavia said. “Our zoo staff has also been working in overdrive to keep the park as clean as possible, especially the high traffic areas.”
Miles-Pavia noted that zoo employees take pride in their work. “There is a real sense of comradery here where CSEA members are involved in collective decision-making,” she said. “This helps us maintain a work environment where everyone takes ownership and feels proud of what happens here on a daily basis.”
Elephant care a top priority
Responding to recent media reports that generally paint elephant care in a negative light, Seneca Park Zoo officials, in a media report, called “the zoo’s elephant program ‘exemplary’ and said the zoo has participated in an initiative of accredited zoos that helps identify best practices for elephant care.”
“With everything we do, the physical, mental, and behavioral well-being of all the animals is our biggest priority,” said CSEA member Lindsay Brinda, the zoo’s elephant manager.
Brinda, who has worked at the zoo for more than 20 years, said she loves working with the three pachyderms, all African female elephants. All three respond to, and understand, more than 50 verbal commands. The elephants also make free will choices about how they live their daily life at the zoo. To date, they are the only African elephants in New York State.
“What I really love to see is the amazement and appreciation of visitors when they gaze at the animals,” Brinda said. “It makes our work very rewarding.”
Zoo officials noted in the media report that the zoo regularly “conducts behavioral and welfare assessments to ensure the elephant program evolves with the changing needs of elephants.”
In 2018, the Seneca Park Zoo received its most recent accreditation by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. A year earlier, the association had made its animal welfare standards more stringent.
The association’s report showed the zoo’s animal care exceeded standards in most areas and even noted that the zoo’s elephant program is “impressive and clearly focused on safety, excellence in animal training, and welfare.”
— Ove Overmyer