Everybody feels welcome at a zoo. Whether you’re a young child seeing an elephant for the first time, an animal lover hoping to get more involved in your community’s conservancy efforts, or a group of friends looking for a fun thing to do on a summer weekend, zoos are universal.
At the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, NY, new steps are being taken to broaden their audience and engage their community, all while promoting the idea that everyone, humans and animals alike, will always be welcome inside.
“Everybody can play a role in making a difference in saving animals from extinction,” says Pamela Reed Sanchez, President and CEO of the Zoo. “We can all be conservationists, we can all be environmentalists.” This message of inclusivity is what has propelled the Zoo forward into a brand-new chapter since 2016, with a complete overhaul and transformation of the Zoo’s brand and an exciting capital campaign that will fund a long-awaited expansion.
But, Reed Sanchez says, none of these new developments at the Rochester-based zoo would be possible without the support of their community. “You have to have a wide swath of the community aware of what you’re doing and in support of what you’re doing if you’re going to be successful in a campaign,” she says. When Reed Sanchez stepped into the role of President and CEO of the Zoo four years ago, she brought with her over 20 years of experience in arts and cultural development and strategic management, along with a background in environmental and technology policy. This experience, she says, has helped her inform what the Zoo does and how they can effectively communicate their vision and mission to the Rochester community.
When Reed Sanchez started her new position, she says one of the first things she did was meet with local community leaders, asking them all the same question: What do you think the brand of the zoo is, and what do you think the zoo’s role is in the community? The responses were overwhelmingly similar, and not entirely unsurprising.
“We had a very strong brand as a great place to take little kids on a sunny day,” she says. “We weren’t reaching intergenerational audiences. We weren’t reaching teenagers, let alone millennials, and people were not viewing the zoo as a conservation organization.”
In 2016, the Zoo unveiled their newly developed brand to the public, with fresh logos and designs around the park itself, all of which centered more on the “why” of what the Zoo does. This reimagining of the Zoo’s identity led to a retooling of their mission statement: “Seneca Park Zoo inspires our community to connect, care for, and conserve wildlife and wild places.” The Zoo’s new mission shorthand’s to “Connect. Care. Conserve.”
The Zoo’s steps to redefine themselves and become relevant to their community now and in the future has led to their latest venture – a five-year capital campaign, “Wilder Vision” that began in 2017. The goal of the campaign is to raise $60 million to fund an “awe-inspiring transformation” that would expand the Zoo by four acres and increase its footprint by 20 percent. The campaign began with a commitment from Monroe County’s of $37 million. The Seneca Park Zoo Society will be raising the rest of the funds, with the board committing to raise 100 percent of the remaining money for the expansion.
The Zoo has already begun this exciting transformation, adding state-of-the-art habitats like the new “Animals of the Savanna” habitat to house new species, opening on September 13. Between now and 2022, the Zoo will also demolish the original Main Building (built in 1931), construct and debut a new cafe, begin tram service, and open another main habitat and brand-new guest services facilities.
Reed Sanchez says that the support from their funders and donors, who are primarily local to the Rochester area, is directly affected by the relationships and trust she and her team have built with them. The Zoo applies the same techniques used to engage their community to further involve their funders. “We educate them about what zoos actually are and what our role is. They start realizing, ‘Oh my goodness, this is a treasure for the region. This is going to make Rochester a better place,’” she says. “There’s a pride; you can actually see people stand up straight when they see what’s happening here.”
This instillation of pride in the Zoo and in the unique culture of Rochester is part of what Reed Sanchez and her staff are capitalizing on with the radical transformation underway right now. By modernizing their identity and expanding their footprint, the Seneca Park Zoo is redefining what it means to be a zoo.
Words by Sarah Heikkinen. Photos courtesy of the Seneca Park Zoo.