Art Gone Wild!

Syracuse zoo exhibits animal art for November 17 sale and auction

The Rosamond Gifford Zoo is showing off 80 pieces of art created by its animals leading up to the annual ‘Art Gone Wild!’ art sale and auction planned for Friday, November 17.

The ‘Art Gone Wild’ exhibit is now on view in the zoo’s upper lobby during zoo hours – 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. – displaying art made by penguins, red pandas, elephants, parrots, lemurs, and even snakes as part of the zoo’s animal enrichment program.

The works will be sold and auctioned from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, November 17 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 80 on display, 20 “mystery paintings” will be for sale at the outset of the event.  

“We call these paintings ‘priceless’ because no two are alike and each one really captures the unique qualities of the animal that created it,” said Janet Agostini, president of the Friends of the Zoo. “We find that people love the opportunity to purchase a piece of art by their favorite animal.”

Siri, a 50-year-old Asian elephant at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, is a pioneer in animal art.

The zoo’s eldest Asian elephant, Siri, who turned 50 this year, is considered a pioneer of animal art. In the 1970s and ‘80s, Siri became renowned after a caretaker discovered she liked drawing in the dirt with a stick or a stone.

The zoo began encouraging Siri to paint on canvas, and the results helped spark an animal art movement. Many zoos have adopted art as an animal enrichment activity that can also be used for training, outreach and fundraising.

“The keepers engage their animals in creating art in some really inventive ways,” said Rosamond Gifford Zoo Director Ted Fox. “Siri holds a paintbrush with her trunk and looks repeatedly at her work while painting. Our West African guinea hogs, Gus and Briggs, have been trained to hold a brush in their mouths while their keepers hold the canvas. Red pandas have a false thumb that allows them to actually hold a brush in their paw.”

With lemurs, leopards, Fennec foxes and the zoo’s ocelot, Lisa, keepers use treats, training and non-toxic paint to produce paw print paintings. Keepers taught African pied crow Jeckyl to paint by hanging a brush from one of her favorite toys and rewarding her with waxworms for swinging it to produce a picture.

“A lot of the animals seem to really like their painting sessions, which increase 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 the Laguna Atacosa National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, home to the world’s largest population of the severely endangered ocelot.

Tickets for the November 17 sale and auction are $8 in advance, $10 at the door and free for age 12 and under. Tickets are available at www.rosamondgiffordzoo.org/art-gone-wild.