Syracuse zoo exhibits animal art to be auctioned November 16

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Rosamond Gifford Zoo is holding an art exhibit of 70 paintings created by animals leading up to its annual ‘Art Gone Wild!’ art sale and auction planned for Friday, November 16.

The ‘Art Gone Wild’ exhibit is now on display in the zoo lobby during zoo hours – 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. – showing art made by penguins, red pandas, elephants, snow leopards, and even am octopus as part of the zoo’s animal enrichment program.

The artwork will be sold and auctioned from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, November 16 to raise funds for the zoo’s chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK), with a portion going to wildlife conservation. Besides the 70 on display, 20 “mystery paintings” will be for sale at the event.

“We consider these paintings ‘priceless’ because no two are alike and each one illustrates the unique qualities of the animal that created it,” said Janet Agostini, president of the Friends of the Zoo

The zoo’s animal art program started with its eldest Asian elephant, Siri, who turned 51 this year. As a young elephant in the early 1980s, Siri demonstrated an interest in drawing. She would pick up a stick or stone with her trunk and make designs in the sand.

One of her caretakers gave Siri the tools to paint on canvas, and the results helped spark an animal art movement. Many zoos now use art as an animal enrichment tool that also produces keepsakes that reflect the animal that made it. The art can be used for education and for fund-raising to benefit conservation causes.

Zoo Director Ted Fox said engaging an animal in making art helps reinforce the daily training that keepers do for animal care. For instance, they already train animals to walk toward them on command in exchange for a reward, as a way to observe their gait and get them to step on a scale to be weighed. So having an animal walk through non-toxic paint and step on a canvas uses the same routine to make “art.”

“A lot of the animals seem to really like their painting sessions because it increases their interaction with their keepers, something they always enjoy,” Fox said.

The results benefit a good cause. The zoo’s AAZK chapter donates a portion of ‘Art Gone Wild!’ funds to a different conservation cause each year. This year’s event will benefit an AAZK program called Trees for You and Me, which plants trees in heavily deforested areas of the world to reduce the carbon buildup that causes climate change.

Tickets for the November 16 art sale and auction are $8 in advance, $10 at the door and free for age 12 and under. Tickets are available at

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