Recon Elephant Workshop

photos of elephants and zookeeper management
RECON elephant workshop information and graphics



To Apply

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The main conference agenda includes, but it not limited to, the topics below:

How Elephants Learn: Dr. Susan Friedman

This presentation is a short seminar focused on the fundamental principles of learning and behavior, and the behavior change technology known as applied behavior analysis. All animals change their behavior due to experience, i.e., they learn, which makes these topics a high priority for all professionals working with behavior. Topics include the following: How Behavior Works: Understanding and Misunderstanding Behavior; The Significance of Science to Behavior Consulting; Functional Assessment; The Commitment to Ethical Practice; and Procedures for Changing Behavior. This section of the workshop will prepare participants to teach elephants more effectively.

Presentations by Steve Martin

Training is best accomplished through clear, honest, two-way communication. The trainer typically communicates through cues, bridging stimuli and prompts, and the animal typically communicates through its body language. Prompts are one of our most important and often miss-used training strategies available to us. The Power of Prompts is a presentation designed to help trainers make the most of this important training tool.

Think of a trainer you recognize as an expert. Now, think of the characteristics that inspire you to call that person an expert. Is it the person’s knowledge, skills, charisma, confidence, reputation or … something else? The Top 10 Behaviors of an Expert Trainer presentation will operationalize some of the important behaviors seen in expert trainers.

Stay tuned for more topics…


Speaker Bios

Biographical sketches of speakers at this Workshop:


Steve Martin

Steve Martin began his professional animal training career when he set up the first of its kind, free-flight bird show at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1976. The show gained world acclaim for its unique ability to combine the entertainment of birds performing natural behaviors with inspirational conservation messages.

In 1984 Steve Martin began teaching animal keepers the art and science of behavior change to enhance the husbandry, enrichment, and behavioral management of exhibit animals. He has now served as an animal behavior and visitor experience consultant for over 120 zoological facilities in more than 20 countries. Steve spends about 200 days each year consulting, lecturing, and conducting aninal training workshops. Steve is an instructor at the AZA Animal Training School, a member of the AZA Animal Welfare Committee, and a Trustee with the World Parrot Trust. He is also President of Natural Encounters, Inc., a company of over 40 professional animal trainers that provide a wide variety of animal behavior and educational services to the zoolgical world (

Susan Friedman, PH.D.

Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D. is a professor emeritus in the Department of Psychology at Utah State University. She has helped pioneer the cross-species application of behavior analysis to animals, using the same humane philosophy and scientifically sound teaching technology that has been so effective with human learners. Susan has co-authored chapters on behavior change in four veterinary texts, and her popular articles have been translated into 13 languages. She gives seminars on animal learning at conferences and zoos around the world, is a member of Karen Pryor’s Clicker Expo faculty, and teaches yearly hands-on animal training workshops with Steve Martin ( Susan is the Parrot Division Chairperson of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), the Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee of American Humane Association (AHA) Film and TV Unit, and a member in good standing of ABAI, AZA, ABMA and IAATE. This year she was included on the Vet Tech College’s list of “15 Animal Professors to Know.” Susan’s acclaimed on-line course, Living and Learning with Animals for behavior professionals, has provided even wider dissemination of effective, humane behavior change practices to students in over 30 countries (

Mike McClure

Mike McClure has been active in the field of professional animal management for over 26 years. While some of that time was spent working with a wide variety of species in zoos, he eventually ended up in a traditional free contact elephant program. He soon began to seek ways to improve the training and husbandry practices through utilization of operant conditioning techniques, standardized unrestricted contact exercises and a reliance on behavioral analysis. With a new approach in place, Mike started working on reducing stress for the elephants, improving communication in their sessions with trainers, expanding their behavioral repertoire and training a new group of staff members.

Over time, the elephant program grew and expanded. The zoo brought in an adult male that was transitioned into restricted contact management and also added an adult female who later gave birth to a male calf. The calf was trained initially through unrestricted contact with the intention to ultimately manage him in restricted. His full transition to restricted contact management took place over the course of a single day with no resulting behavioral drift. In subsequent years, he has been treated successfully for both an endotheliotropic herpes virus outbreak and a suspected bacterial sepsis. Each illness left him in critical condition, requiring extensive treatments and exceptional behavioral compliance for both diagnosis and treatment of clinical signs.

Mike’s experiences have led to consultation requests from other facilities and an opportunity to travel to Africa to assist with elephant management decisions in an ecotourism camp in Botswana. As the President of the Elephant Managers Association and as an instructor and co administrator for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Principles of Elephant Management I and II, Mike seeks to develop passion and professional expertise in elephant caregivers and to gain new insights from the people and elephants he is fortunate to encounter through any opportunity he can find.




Stand by for further details as the workshop gets closer.


Questions: Contact Jeremy Dillon at 719-424-7838 or email [email protected]