A Fond Farewell from Friends President

Janet Agostini Friends of the Zoo President & CEO

As you may have heard, I have announced my plan to retire as President and CEO of Friends of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo on January 10, 2020.

This job has occupied the past 13 years of my career, and it been the best job ever! However, I do look forward to spending more time with family, including my own fur babies, and on community volunteer pursuits.

It has been a great privilege to lead the Friends organization and to serve the millions of guests who have visited the zoo, the creatures that have called the zoo home –and, of course, you, our wonderful members.

I am exceedingly grateful for all the hard work and creativity of the team at Friends of the Zoo that have helped establish one of the most effective partner organizations in the zoo and aquarium world. These are not accomplishments that a CEO makes alone – they are the accomplishments of a dedicated team who work together relentlessly for a common goal.

Among the accomplishments that give me the greatest satisfaction are:

  • Transforming an organization that was $2 million in debt when I arrived into a financially healthy, debt-free entity with over $6 million in our endowment fund.
  • Raising more than $30 million in earned and unearned revenue to support the zoo.
  • Conducting successful capital campaigns that brought great zoo improvements including the Helga Beck Asian Elephant Preserve, Primate Park and renovations to the zoo banquet facilities and gift shop.
  • Our recent campaign that raised $400,000 to fully fund a new exhibit for our family of Amur leopards.

I have loved my years at Friends of the Zoo, and it has been my pleasure to lead the team at this fine organization.  With a milestone year approaching, there’s a lot to look forward to — Among other highlights, 2020 will be the Friends of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo’s 50th anniversary year!

I hope you will continue to support the Friends with your membership and your contributions to your world-class zoo. Thank you for making my time here so very special.

My best,

Janet Agostini
President + CEO
Friends of the Zoo

Bring Your Plush Pal to the Teddy Bear Clinic at the Zoo!

Syracuse Zoo Teddy Bear Clinic sponsored by St. Joseph's Health Dr. Marsh
Janet Agostini Friends of the Zoo President & CEO

One of our favorite events is coming up on Monday, November 11 – the Teddy Bear Clinic sponsored by St. Joseph’s Health!

This special clinic invites children to bring their stuffed animals to the zoo for a checkup and “First Aid” by volunteer “vets” including actual medical staff from our sponsor, St. Joseph’s Health.

The Teddy Bear Clinic will be held 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Veterans Day off from school. It’s a great opportunity to introduce children to health care – and animal care — in a fun, familiar setting.

Check in at the zoo banquet room, where our “waiting room” will contain fun games and activities. When your name is called, come to the exam area where St. Joseph staff and zoo volunteers will be on hand to examine hundreds of plush pets and perform “surgery” on those suffering from excessive amounts of love. Then stop at the grooming area to spruce up your pet with a cute accessory.

St. Joseph’s Physicians Chief Operating Officer Julianne Himes said the health provider’s staff love volunteering at the Teddy Bear Clinic.

 “The Teddy Bear clinic is a fantastic opportunity for our doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and nurses to meet community members outside of a traditional health care setting,” she said.

“Most importantly, this event provides an excellent opportunity to introduce young children to health care and help them understand that interactions with health care providers are positive and alleviate any fears they may have.” The Teddy Bear Clinic is free with zoo admission – which is free for zoo members. If you’re not yet a member, please check out the options at syracusezooevents.org/members.

My best,

Janet Agostini
President + CEO
Friends of the Zoo

Take a Child Outside!

Explorer's PlaySpace at Syracuse Zoo RGZ
Janet Agostini Friends of the Zoo President & CEO

The week of September 23-30 is national Take a Child Outside Week – and I can’t think of a better place to take a child outside than the zoo!

This special week aimed at connecting children to nature was founded in 2007 by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and has since spread to over 250 parks, nature centers, zoos and museums around the country.

Friends of the Zoo joined this effort as a partner by pledging to offer opportunities for young people to be outside in nature, engage in nature play and appreciate the natural world.

When we built our Explorer’s PlaySpace in 2016, we did so for all these reasons – and because imaginative nature play is good for everyone, especially young children. Nature play spaces encourage children to engage in unstructured play that involves using their senses, imagination and creativity interacting with the natural world.

Explorer's PlaySpace at Syracuse Zoo RGZ

Child development studies indicate that nature play improves cognition and thinking, increases focus, decreases anxiety, builds confidence and helps prevent childhood obesity. It also helps develop a sense of wonder about the natural world that translates into a connection to and respect for green spaces, natural resources and wildlife.

For our part, the zoo will offer guided tours of our outdoor Wildlife Trail on Tuesday, September 24 and Thursday, September 26 at 10:30 a.m. – followed by facilitated play at our Explorer’s PlaySpace. The tour is suitable for all ages; meet at the gazebo in the zoo courtyard at 10:30 a.m. both days, weather permitting.

And of course, the PlaySpace is open and available for children to engage in nature play all year during zoo hours — So I invite you to Take a Child Outside at the zoo this week – and every week — as often as time and the weather allow.

My best,

Janet Agostini
President + CEO
Friends of the Zoo

Run for the Cats and Support our Amur Leopard Woodland Project!

Syracuse Zoo RGZ Family Fun Run Two Women Running with Stroller
Janet Agostini Friends of the Zoo President & CEO

I recently had the honor of receiving the Key4Women Community Impact Award from Key4Women, a Key Bank-sponsored organization that helps women succeed in business.

Of course I was thrilled to get the award, but the best part is, Key4Women offered to make a generous donation to a cause of my choice!

Normally this would be a tough decision. I’m a huge supporter of many causes, most of them animal-related – plus it’s my job to raise money and support for the many missions of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo.

But in this case, it was easy – I chose the zoo’s Amur Leopard Woodland project!

Friends of the Zoo conceived this project when the zoo joined the Species Survival Plan for Amur leopards last year. Amur leopards are not only magnificently beautiful, they are the world’s most endangered big cats, with only 84 remaining in the wild. The SSP recommended pairing two young leopards, Tria from the Greenville (SC) Zoo and Rafferty from the San Diego Zoo, in hopes they would have cubs.

We welcomed the pair and our keepers worked to gradually introduce them – with great success! The couple accepted each other and on June 19, Tria gave birth to twin cubs, Milo and Mina. If you have not yet seen these adorable babies, you really should visit us soon.

Syracuse Zoo RGZ Amur Leopard Cubs Milo and Meena

The Friends was already raising funds to create a new home for Tria and Rafferty, and the new additions make this goal even more pressing. It will take about $400,000 to transform our former lion exhibit into a new habitat tailored for Amur leopards, including lots of vertical space, trees and climbing structures to accommodate their climbing prowess.

The sooner we can do this, the better – and there’s a fun way you can help! You can participate in the Syracuse Zoo Family Fun Run, a kid- and stroller-friendly 2.5K (1.5 mile) walk/run through part of Burnet Park and the zoo’s Wildlife Trail on Saturday, September 28. It ends with a party in the zoo courtyard, fun giveaways, free zoo admission and more. And yes, we hope to make it an annual fundraiser.

Of course when my staff asked what our first fun run should benefit, you know what I said! Our 2019 run is the Run for the Cats, and all proceeds will go to the Amur Leopard Woodland project. You can find more information on the fun run and sign up at http://www.syracusezooevents.org/family-fun-run/ .

Meanwhile, if you can’t make the walk/run but want to donate to this project, please visit http://www.syracusezooevents.org/amur-leopard-campaign/ or call us at (315) 435-8511 x8526.

My best,

Janet Agostini
President + CEO
Friends of the Zoo

Brew at the Zoo & Wine, Too – plus Big Bugs, NY Trail and a baby elephant!

Syracuse Zoo RGZ Brew at the zoo crowd
Janet Agostini Friends of the Zoo President & CEO

The Friends of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo’s biggest summer fundraiser — Brew at the Zoo & Wine, Too! – celebrates its 23rd year on August 2, and it has aged well. Every year it features something new, and this year is no different!

Exciting accompaniments to this year’s brew fest include a New York Beer & Wine Trail spotlighting local craft beers and wines along a section of the zoo’s newly renovated scenic walkway, as well as our summer exhibit of Big Bugs! – seven giant animatronic insects that promise to inject fun photo ops into the mix.

Brew-goers also get to enjoy animals on evening exhibit, music, games, a silent auction including animal-inspired items and experiences, and more. Proceeds from Brew at the Zoo benefit the Rosamond Gifford Zoo and all the creatures that call the zoo home.

A couple enjoys Brew at the Zoo

The 2019 event takes place 5:30 to 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2, and advance sale tickets are available through Wednesday, July 31. Advance sale tickets are $55 per person and $50 for groups of six or more. Tickets will be $65 as of July 31 and also will be sold at the door if available. Advance tickets are on sale now at syracusezooevents.org/event/brew-at-the-zoo-2019.

For the VIP treatment, purchase our VIP ticket for exclusive access to a 4 p.m. reception with delicious food, open bar, animal greeters, pre-event VIP-only tastings and desserts — as well as dedicated VIP comfort stations and early access to Brew. VIP tickets are $95 each.

Brew at the Zoo is a CNY summer tradition that often sells out. Recent renovations to improve the zoo’s Wildlife Trail past Asian elephants, white-lipped deer and red wolves will make this year’s event even more enjoyable, especially with the chance to see our 8-month-old baby elephant, Ajay (Ah-JYE).

One of the highlights of Brew is an elephant demonstration at Asian Elephant Preserve, and with baby Ajay on hand, we think this will be the best Brew ever. Add to that our Big Bugs and the New York Beer & Wine Trail and there are a lot of new elements to celebrate this year.

Beer and wine distributors Spirit & Sanzone and TJ Sheehan and our catering sponsor, Tops, are returning with over 45 beverage stations and 10 food stations around the zoo. The New York Beer & Wine Trail will include Stout Beard Brewing Company, Empire Brewing, IBU Brewery, and Anything But Beer of Syracuse, WT Brews of Baldwinsville, 1911 Distillery of Lafayette and Zugibe Vineyards of Geneva, among others.

The event features music by Black Tie Entertainment and a silent auction whose prizes include animal artwork, gift baskets, sports memorabilia and donated excursions such as a hotel staycation and a craft beer and wine Thousand Islands boat tour. The silent auction will be conducted via mobile bidding, so Brew-goers can bid on their cell phones while enjoying the party.

Brew at the Zoo runs 5:30 to 8 p.m. August 2, with early entry for VIP ticket holders starting at 4 p.m.

For more information and updates, please visit syracusezooevents.org/event/brew-at-the-zoo-2019.

My best,

Janet Agostini
President + CEO
Friends of the Zoo


Advance sale: $55 per person
Advance group rate (6+): $50 per person
Advance sale ends Wednesday, July 31.
Tickets $65 per person beginning Thursday, August 1.
VIP: $95 per person
Tickets required; click here to purchase,
by phone at (315) 435-8511 x8589 
or purchase at the membership desk.
Anyone under 21, including infants and toddlers, will not be admitted.

VIP ticket holders get access to an exclusive reception at the zoo banquet room at 4 p.m. with food prepared by Catering at the Zoo, open bar (beer and wine only), special VIP-only tastings, early entry into Brew, animal greets, dedicated VIP comfort stations, more. For questions about VIP tickets, please call (315) 435-8511 x8518.

New at the Zoo – a Jellyfish Exhibit!

Syracuse Zoo RGZ Moon Jellyfish
Janet Agostini Friends of the Zoo President & CEO

I am happy to share that we have just unveiled a new exhibit at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo – moon jellyfish!

I am even more happy to share that the new exhibit was fully funded by the Friends of the Zoo in partnership with our zoo professionals who designed and installed it.

The Friends invested $20,000 to purchase two 100-gallon hexagonal tanks outfitted to house 25 moon jellies each that the zoo acquired from the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT.

Moon jellies are translucent sea creatures with short, fringy tentacles and we have them lit with blue filters that show off their unique structure. The exhibit represents a new, first-time species for the zoo. It is located near the zoo’s other marine exhibits in the USS Antiquities cave.

After months of work to install the tanks and infrastructure for water filtration and cycling, temperature control and lighting, the jellies arrived about two weeks ago. The windows to the tanks were covered while the animals acclimated.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon and Onondaga County Legislature Chair Dave Knapp came to the zoo to help unveil the new exhibit – which became a focal point for many of our younger guests as soon as we pulled the curtain!

Zoo Director Ted Fox said the new exhibit will be a great addition in support of the zoo’s conservation and education missions. “Not only are jellyfish an iconic and popular species, they are indicators of the health of our oceans, so they give us added opportunities to talk about things like climate change and plastics pollution,” he said.

Jellyfish are invertebrates that use a form of jet propulsion to move through the water. They are famous – and feared — for their stinging cells, which they use to stun prey. However, moon jellies eat plankton and are the least dangerous jellyfish to humans.

Our moon jellies are relatives of another invertebrate species, upside-down jellyfish, that can be found in the Garden Eel tank right across the way from the new exhibit.

We hope you enjoy our newest additions to your zoo!

My best,

Janet Agostini
President + CEO
Friends of the Zoo

Summer is Finally Here – and so are Animal Demos, a Carousel and Big Bugs!

Janet Agostini Friends of the Zoo President & CEO

The warm weather is finally upon us, the zoo is awash in color from our beautiful flowers, the animals are out and it’s a special time to be at the zoo – especially with some new attractions to enhance your visits!

The Friends of the Zoo has installed an 18-horse carousel in the idyllic green space across from the Outdoor Birds exhibits that looks and feels magical. It’s been open on weekends since Memorial Day and our younger guests love the galloping ponies. Rides are $3 each, ride tokens can be purchased nearby and proceeds benefit the animals that call the zoo home. The carousel will be open every day starting on June 22.

Our summer exhibit of Big Bugs! also has descended on the wooded section of our Wildlife Trail between Amur tiger and Asian Elephant Preserve, and the bugs will operate daily through Labor Day starting on Member Appreciation Night June 12. Just as with last year’s dinosaurs, we built the Big Bugs! exhibit to be included in zoo admission — free for members!

Our animal care staff have started their summer animal demonstrations and keeper chats throughout the day on weekends, and they go daily starting June 22. You can see the full schedule here.

We also have a new walkway built by our county partners with support from the Friends. Stay tuned to our social media for updates on when we’ll hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

With all this to offer, it’s a great time to consider becoming a zoo member! Your membership supports the zoo’s missions of conservation and saving species and comes with free year-round admission plus many other perks. It’s the best deal in town for the best cause aroundSee the options at syracusezooevents.org/members – and we’ll see you at the zoo!

My best,

Janet Agostini
President + CEO
Friends of the Zoo

Syracuse Zoo RGZ Big Bugs! Blue-Eyed Darner
Syracuse Zoo RGZ Big Bugs! Bombardier Beetle Grasshopper

Volunteering – A Richly Rewarding Experience!

Syracuse Zoo RGZ Volunteers
Janet Agostini Friends of the Zoo President & CEO

Did you know that many of the people you see helping to staff zoo events and education programs are volunteers? In fact, if it weren’t for our dedicated corps of volunteers, the Rosamond Gifford Zoo might not be able to offer some of our most popular events – like Zoo Boo, Brew at the Zoo, Breakfast with Santa and Asian Elephant Extravaganza, to name a few.

If you are looking to use your time and talents to make a difference, the zoo is the perfect place for you! We are always seeking dedicated, talented, reliable, energetic and enthusiastic volunteers to help with special events, assist in education programs, help maintain and beautify zoo grounds, and interpret zoo exhibits for visitors.

Here are ways you can volunteer at the zoo:

  • Zoo Events – Help the zoo host fun, educational events by greeting guests, staffing special event stations, assisting with arts, crafts, games and face-painting, help stage and decorate event spaces and more!
  • Be a Zoo Mascot – Represent the zoo at community events and onsite zoo activities as our elephant or penguin mascot! We’re seeking outgoing, entertaining people to don an animal costume and interact with the public just as a sports team mascot does.
  • Conservation Education – Assist our zoo education team with programs that promote public awareness of wildlife and nature conservation. Opportunities include assisting instructors of classroom education programs and staffing animal artifact and information stations.
  • Green Grounds and Gardens – Help us improve and maintain our beautiful zoo grounds through on-site projects that involve a team effort.

Zoo volunteer activities offer great experience for youth, college students, teachers, professionals, retirees, corporate groups and alumni associations, among many others. There are so many ways you can share your skills and give back to your community by helping the zoo with projects, programs, events and causes while getting involved in CNY’s premiere wildlife conservation center.

I invite you to consider joining our zoo family and to apply to be a zoo volunteer. To learn more, sign up for a Volunteer Information Night at syracusezooevents.org/volunteer or email volunteer services at volunteer@rosamondgiffordzoo.org.

My best,

Janet Agostini
President + CEO
Friends of the Zoo

Thrilled to be welcoming a new baby to the Rosamond Gifford Zoo

Asian Elephant Mom and Baby Syracuse Zoo RGZ 2019
Janet Agostini Friends of the Zoo President & CEO

On January 15, our Asian elephant herd grew from 7 to 8 with the birth of a bouncing baby boy to elephant parents Mali and Doc.

I am always excited at the sight of any of our elephants, but being able to see a newborn elephant taking some of his first steps is a privilege that really does amount to the best day ever.

Since our County Executive Ryan McMahon announced the birth publicly on January 24, the new baby has been featured in publications and news sites across our state and beyond. It makes us proud to see our zoo recognized as one of only 11 zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) that breeds this critically endangered species under the Species Survival Plan for Asian elephants.

As the leader of a non-profit whose mission is to support the zoo, I spend a lot of my time designing capital campaigns to fund zoo projects, educating people about the important conservation work taking place here and securing financial support for everything from an X-ray machine to the 50,000-gallon watering hole at Asian Elephant Preserve.

It is so nice to see the elephant barn sheltering a wonderful multi-generational herd as we envisioned. Your past and ongoing support helped to make this happen – thank you!

I would like to extend the Friends of the Zoo’s congratulations to the entire zoo staff, especially the elephant care team and our veterinary team from Cornell University, on this wonderful occasion – and to re-pledge our support for the amazing work that you do on behalf of the animals at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo.

My best,

Janet Agostini
President + CEO
Friends of the Zoo

Syracuse zoo’s Snow Leopard Soirée: Monte Carlo to be held Feb. 8

2018 Snow Leopard Soirée: Under the Sea Syracuse Zoo RGZ
Janet Agostini Friends of the Zoo President & CEO

The high-stakes, high-society elegance of Monte Carlo is this year’s theme for the Friends of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo’s annual Snow Leopard Soirée on Friday, February 8, a black-tie gala to benefit zoo education programs.

This year’s gala honors Al Gough, Partner & CFO of Brine Wells Companies, LLC, and Friends of the Zoo board member. Gough, a longtime zoo supporter, contributed to the Friends capital campaigns for the Penguin Coast and Primate Park exhibits at the zoo.

Snow Leopard Soirée has all the fun, food and fanciful decor of a charity ball, plus interactions with zoo animals and zookeepers and chances to bid on animal art and behind-the-scenes zoo experiences. Some of the more “zoo-nique” items include a painting created by siamang apes Abe and Fatima and art by Bactrian camels Patrick and George, as well as a behind-the-scenes sloth encounter.

The annual Soirée helps fund zoo education programs that reach some 150,000 people each year. Conservation education is key part of the zoo’s mission as an accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), said Friends of the Zoo President Janet Agostini.

“AZA facilities are required to ensure that our guests come away with a greater understanding of the animal kingdom and wildlife conservation,” Agostini said.

“If your child has participated in a school field trip to the Rosamond Gifford Zoo or attended Zoo Camp, if you have come to a zoo event or have interacted with our teen Zoo Guides who work at the zoo each summer, you have been touched by a zoo education program.”

Rosamond Gifford Zoo’s education programs include:

  • Zoo to You, a mobile education program that brings zoo educators and ambassador animals – birds, lizards, snakes, even a porcupine – to schools, libraries, community centers and hospitals.
  • Zoo Camp – weeklong summer camps or day-long seasonal camps that include zoo tours, hands-on activities, games, crafts and interaction with animals and animal care staff on topics such as animal adaptations, habitats, enrichment and saving species.
  • Zoo Guides, a program that trains about 20 city high school students each year to work at the zoo helping to educate the public with animal biofact stations and other activities.

Soirée is an annual tradition that some couples and groups of friends plan for each year. The evening starts at 6:30 p.m. with a cocktail reception and silent auction. At 8 p.m., guests fill the zoo’s banquet room for a gourmet dinner and a live auction. A dessert spread, music and dancing follow.

The silent auction will feature Mobile Bidding by GiveSmart, which allows attendees to bid via their smart phones while enjoying the food and festivities.
To Register Click Here

If You Go
Snow Leopard Soirée 2019: Monte Carlo.
When: Friday, February 8, 6:30 to 11 p.m.
Where: Rosamond Gifford Zoo, 1 Conservation Place, Syracuse, NY 13204.
Why: Gala fundraiser to benefit the zoo’s education programs.
Cost: $220 per person; $1,750/per table of eight; reservations required.
Reservations: Reserve Now or call 315-435-8511 x8518.

Janet Agostini
President + CEO
Friends of the Zoo