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Zoo’s red panda gets a mate

Willie, a 5-year-old red panda, has made his way to the Seneca Park Zoo, where it is expected he will woo Starlight, the zoo’s female red panda.

Willie’s arrival in Rochester was based on a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan, a coordinated initiative to plan for and manage the breeding of animals across all AZA-accredited zoos to ensure genetic diversity and species sustainability in human care.

Willie is a 5-year-old red panda who has joined Starlight at the Seneca Park Zoo (photo provided)
Willie is a 5-year-old red panda who has joined Starlight at the Seneca Park Zoo (photo provided)

“The Seneca Park Zoo continues to be one of our community’s most visited tourist attractions, with thousands of people and families visiting nearly every day. The red pandas have been such a terrific addition to the zoo and have quickly become a favorite for guests of all ages,” said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. “It’s exciting to think about the prospect of red panda cubs in the zoo’s future.”

Willie comes from Zoo Knoxville. He was born at the Greenville Zoo in South Carolina, and was reportedly named after Willie Nelson, specifically after an album called Red Headed Stranger. Despite the origin of his name, Willie is distinctive from Starlight based on his predominantly white face, while Starlight’s face markings are redder.

“We are excited for Starlight to have a mate,” said Interim Zoo Director David Hamilton. “Willie’s arrival is at the perfect time, as Starlight is now old enough to reproduce. What’s more, red pandas love cooler weather, so it’s a great time for guests to visit.”

Red pandas are native to the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. They are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list because their population, thought to be less than 10,000, has declined by 50 percent in the last 20 years.

“We are so happy to welcome Willie as an ambassador for his species,” said Pamela Reed Sanchez, president and CEO of Seneca Park Zoo Society. “Since the introduction of red pandas to Seneca Park Zoo in 2018, the zoo has been an active supporter of Red Panda Network, providing grants from special fundraising efforts to restore and reforest the Red Panda Protected Forest.”

The zoo is open daily and timed tickets are required. They can be purchased at

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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MatchUp Monroe aims to help college students set down roots here

For years, people in Rochester have lamented the “brain drain,” meaning the trend of young people leaving Rochester as soon as they finish college.

Now there’s an app to fight that.

County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo announced on Monday that the county has created a program to link college students in the Rochester area with summer internships at local businesses. The paid internships will come with free housing, transportation, and cultural programs curated to help persuade the students to set down roots in Monroe County.

Job postings and applications for the new MatchUP Monroe program will be found on Handshake, a job-seeking app for recent college graduates.

“MatchUP Monroe is custom designed to link students from our world-class colleges and universities with rewarding internships at some of our community’s most exciting local employers,” Dinolfo said. “Together, we will ‘MatchUP’ our best and brightest students and employers to build a brighter future for all of us.”

Work on the program began in January, Dinolfo said, and will launch for the summer of 2020. The county has partnered with six local colleges to recruit students, and a variety of  companies and cultural institutions.

“Incentive programs like Match Up Monroe provide our students with the opportunity to learn more about the great jobs and rewarding career opportunities that this region has to offer,” said Ian Mortimer, Vice President for Enrollment Management at Rochester Institute of Technology. The other colleges partnering with the program include University of Rochester, Nazareth College, St. John Fisher College, Roberts Wesleyan College and Monroe Community College.

Once students apply to the program, they will be screened by a panel of participating companies and may be interviewed  by individual companies. Some of those companies planning to host interns so far include CloudChekr, Datto, 29 Design Studio, LeFrois Builders & Developers, Unither, eLogic, UR and Innovative Solutions. Additional companies can still apply to participate on the program’s website.

Housing in RIT’s Global Village will be provided for the duration of the internships, which will last eight to 10 weeks. Free bus passes will be provided to help students reach their jobs.

Dinolfo and some of the participants unveiled MatchUP  Monroe at Innovative Solutions Monday.

Justin Copie, CEO of Innovative Solutions, said, “We are so excited to partner with Cheryl and her team to help solve one of the biggest problems in our community — retention. Through this program, we’re excited to usher students into our business so they can begin to develop relationships within the community, and learn what makes this community so great. It is our responsibility to nurture the amazing talent in this community, if we’re to grow this community.”

The cultural component of the program involves coordinating visits to attractions in the county, sharing the off-hours life of Monroe County with students. Institutions including VisitRochester, Geva Theatre Center, the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival, Seneca Park Zoo and others have signed on to help with that.

“Monroe County is home to world-class arts and cultural institutions, nationally-recognized museums, a fantastic parks and recreation system and a fabulous food scene,” said Don Jeffries, president and CEO of VisitRochester.

Imagine Monroe, the county’s economic development agency, will cover costs of housing, transportation and some other expenses, while county planning and economic development staff support the program.

Students and companies that would like to participate in the program can learn more at

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275

Parker the giraffe joins Animals of the Savanna Exhibit at Seneca Park Zoo

Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo with Parker, a 2-year-old male Masai giraffe who has joined the zoo's Animals of the Savanna expansion. (Photo provided)
Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo with Parker, a 2-year-old male Masai giraffe who has joined the zoo’s Animals of the Savanna expansion. (Photo provided)

As part of its Animals of the Savanna expansion, the Seneca Park Zoo has added a third Masai giraffe.

Parker is a 2-year-old male from the Santa Barbara Zoo, who recently arrived at the zoo as part of the expansion that opened to the public in September.

“We are thrilled to welcome Parker to our Seneca Park Zoo family and to have him join both Iggy and Kipenzie at the recently expanded Animals of the Savanna Exhibit,” Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo said in a statement Friday. “Masai giraffes are a species whose population in East Africa is plummeting. Parker, Iggy and Kipenzie will serve as ambassadors for their species, helping local residents understand, appreciate and take action for these amazing animals from another continent.”

Parker was born in August 2016 at the Santa Barbara Zoo and carries “valuable genes,” officials said. Parker’s father, Michael, is considered one of the most genetically valuable male Masai giraffes in human care because of his few relatives in zoos, other than his own offspring.

Parker’s move to Seneca Park Zoo was recommended by the Association of the Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan, which manages populations of animals in human care and ensures their genetic diversity. He joins Iggy and Kipenzi, who are 1-year-old females and potential future mates, who arrived here in August.

The three giraffes share their habitat with two female plains zebras.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021

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Seneca Park Zoo adopts friend for elephants

Zuzu will join the Seneca Park Zoo as an elephant barn dog. (Photo provided)
Zuzu will join the Seneca Park Zoo as an elephant barn dog. (Photo provided)

The Seneca Park Zoo is adding a new animal to its mix: man’s best friend.

Zuzu is a five-month-old female hound mix who will live in the elephant barn and work with the elephants and their keepers. She was adopted from Lollypop Farm, the Humane Society of Greater Rochester.

“We are delighted to welcome Zuzu to our Seneca Park Zoo family,” Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo said in a statement. “In addition to helping our dedicated staff enhance their training skills, Zuzu will also provide companionship and enrichment to the elephants who call our zoo home.”

As an elephant barn dog, Zuzu will play several roles. She will offer an opportunity for zoo keepers to learn training skills before training zoo animals and she will provide enrichment for elephants through physical and mental stimulation to help the elephants experience unexpected and changing dynamics in their daily lives.

“In their natural habitat, elephants encounter many different species of animals, so our elephants will be well-equipped to live happily alongside Zuzu moving forward,” Dinolfo said.

Zuzu will live permanently in the elephant barn, and will join the zoo security team on nighttime rounds.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Red pandas, snow leopards make home at zoo’s new Cold Asia Exhibit

The Seneca Park Zoo has acquired two endangered red pandas named blaze and Starlight as part of its new Cold Asia exhibit. (Photo provided)
The Seneca Park Zoo has acquired two endangered red pandas named Blaze and Starlight as part of its new Cold Asia exhibit. (Photo provided)

The Seneca Park Zoo’s Cold Asia Exhibit has opened, featuring two red pandas and a new home for the zoo’s snow leopards.

“For decades, families from across our region have enjoyed time together at the Seneca Park Zoo while learning about conservation,” Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo said Friday. “This investment in our zoo is an investment in our community and local economy.”

The red pandas are named Blaze and Starlight, while the snow leopards are Kaba and Tamila. The construction of the Cold Asia exhibit, the first project of Phase 1 of the zoo’s master plan, provides a closely related habitat for both the red pandas and snow leopards, which are native to the eastern Himalayan and Southwest China regions.

Zoo officials said the efforts to conserve and protect the two species are of the utmost importance. Both species are classified as endangered and vulnerable in accordance with the guidelines set forth by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Seneca Park Zoo has provided the community with opportunities to learn about wildlife and the importance of conservation for more than 100 years.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer