ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A Seneca Park Zoo veterinarian is suing the Seneca Park Zoo Society President after claims of improper treatment of zoo animals.

Dr. Louis DiVincenti, Seneca Park Zoo website Director of Animal Health and Conservation, filed a lawsuit of defamation earlier this month against Pamela Reed Sanchez, President and CEO of the Seneca Park Zoo Society.

DiVincenti, a New York state-licensed veterinarian, says Sanchez sent a letter to Monroe County officials in November 2019, arguing that the he was giving animals at the zoo improper treatment. According to the lawsuit, a Monroe County Human Resources investigation found those claims to be false.

However, according to the lawsuit, DiVincenti was relieved of his administrative duties after Sanchez’s letter was distributed, and his “role and responsibilities at the zoo remain reduced,” despite the claims being found false.

DiVincenti filed for defamation, arguing that the claims made by Sanchez tended to injure his trade, business, or profession.

Claims made by Sanchez against DiVincenti, according to the lawsuit:

  • Improperly treated an elephant at the zoo, resulting in the animal’s death
  • Performed cataract surgery on the wrong eye of a hyena at the zoo
  • Delayed providing care to an abandoned snow leopard cub so that it could be seen by zoo visitors
  • Killed a penguin at the zoo by providing improper anesthesia
  • Falsified records to hide the aforementioned alleged acts
  • Placed zoo staff and volunteers at risk by allowing them to view an anesthetized lion during surgical procedure

To reiterate, DiVincenti says these claims were found to be false after a county HR investigation.

Larry Staub, who served as Director of Monroe County Parks from 2006 until his retirement in 2019, defending the HR findings being determined false.

As Director of Parks, he had administrative oversight of Seneca Park Zoo, and from 2018 until his retirement he served in dual roles as both the Director of Parks and the Director of Seneca Park Zoo. In a statement to News 8 Wednesday, Staub said:

“Dr. DiVincenti is a world-class Zoo Veterinarian and remarkable ambassador for Seneca Park Zoo, and Zoos in general. He is one of only a hand-full of Zoo Veterinarians, working at a Zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), who is also boarded in Animal Welfare, one of the highest priorities of animal care identified by Zoo professionals and the public. Both Dr. DiVincenti and the high-level of professional care that he provides the animals at Seneca Park Zoo were applauded by the AZA Accreditation Team during their most recent 5-year on-site inspection, in 2018.  

Having only the defamation suit to review, rather than the alleged original letter, I do not have the benefit of context or intent. However, after reading the allegations, and serving as Director of Parks & Seneca Park Zoo during the time they are alleged to occur, I believe the Bello Administration made the right call by determining that the allegations were false, following their investigation. 

Regarding the allegation that Dr. DiVincenti put staff and volunteers at risk by allowing them to view an anesthetized lion during a surgical procedure, I trusted Dr. DiVincenti, as a trained and licensed medical professional, to make the determination as to who was allowed to participate in any animal examination or procedure. In such situations, the animals were under anesthesia and closely monitored. He would not have put himself or others at risk. 

I was surprised that Dr. DiVincenti was not named Zoo Director or even Interim-Zoo Director, following my retirement at the end of last year, as he is certainly capable and qualified to do so. I can only imagine that the letter and its allegations had something to do with that.” 

A statement from Sanchez Wednesday said:

“We are obligated to share welfare and safety concerns to the Zoo’s governing authority.  Concerns were brought to me; it was my obligation as part of a Zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums to pass them on to the proper point person at Monroe County, which I did.  Seneca Park Zoo Society continues to actively partner with our colleagues at Monroe County to operate the Zoo.  I cannot comment further on an active lawsuit.”

DiVincenti and current Seneca Park Zoo officials have not immediately returned a request for comment on the matter.

DiVincenti joined the Seneca Park Zoo almost three years ago as the Director of Animal Health and Conservation. A few months later, the zoo’s director and assistant director vacated their positions. A few months after that, DiVincenti was appointed assistant director, where he also served operationally a the zoo director in the absence of a replacement, according to the lawsuit.

Full lawsuit

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.