Cincinnati Zoo in the Animal Care Spotlight

200 Animal Care Professionals Gather to Share Best Practices

Last week the Cincinnati Zoo hosted the annual Animal Behavior Management Alliance (ABMA) conference. The ABMA represents a group of animal care professionals and other individuals interested in enhancing animal care through training and enrichment.  The mission of the ABMA is to continually strive to advance intentional and enlightened behavior management to improve the lives and welfare of all animals.  Each year 200+ members gather from 30+ states and over 5 countries to exchange new ideas and share best practices though presentations, workshops and discussions.  Cincinnati Zoo animal care staff has been involved with the ABMA for the last 15 years, in fact one of the first ABMA conferences was held here in 2001 and we thought it was time to bring attendees back and show them the positive changes we have made around the zoo.  Previous conference hosts include Sea World/Busch Gardens, The Copenhagen Zoo, Dallas Zoo and Toronto Zoo, so our challenge was to make a memorable conference right here in Cincinnati.

Zero Waste Hospitality

It takes a village to put on a conference, so we enlisted help from various departments at the zoo. For example, we wanted to be true to our zoo values and have a waste free hospitality suite with no disposable cups, plates and napkins. Our amazing zoo volunteers made fabric napkin squares and a zoo supporter donated reusable cups for us to include in our conference swag bag. These items helped us meet our goal and showed off what we do best here at the Cincinnati Zoo; create solutions for people to support positive conservation habits.  The reusable napkins and cups were so well received that the ABMA organization hopes to make it a habit for future conferences as well!

Sharing Enrichment Ideas

Our official conference week began with a pre-conference Enrichment Building Workshop with the team from the Shape of Enrichment, an enrichment building organization that specializes in teaching animal care professionals to make innovative and engaging enrichment items. Enrichment is a vital part of animal wellbeing and can come in many forms, such as different food items (like the carcass feeding you might see at the zoo) or new ways to give animals their daily diet that allow them to practice their natural behavior and use their brain to problem solve like they would in their natural range.  Animal caretakers work hard to get creative and learn to build new and innovative enrichment devices.  The Shape team and attendees spent the day learning and making enrichment items for various animals at our zoo, including our kea and sifaka. As you can see from the photos below the animals enjoyed their new items.

All conference attendees also had another opportunity to create enrichment during the conference week.  Here are half the attendees proudly posed with their fire hose cubes and hammocks and mesh feeder boxes.  It is hard work to build sturdy enrichment, especially for larger animals like tigers and gorillas and that is why you might often see fire hose commonly being used around the zoo, its tough stuff that can handle the antics of a playful large mammal!

Proud enrichment building attendees. photo by Shape of Enrichment

Presentations – Sharing What Works

The bulk of the ABMA conference is presentations. Attendees submit paper and poster ideas to discuss new training strategies, innovations in enrichment, animal cognitive research, etc.  Animal staff from the Cincinnati Zoo presented 4 papers and 3 posters, with topics such as primate group dynamics, orangutan exhibit design, using technology to measure swimming behavior in penguins, and innovations in training with elephants, clouded leopards, ostrich and aardwolves.  Africa care staff Dan Turoczi won the Conference Poster Presentation Award for his poster on training ostriches for an annual exam!


Africa care staff Dan talks ostrich at the poster presentation night.
Primate staffer Shelly presents her orangutan enclosure study to the conference attendees.

Cincinnati Zoo Day was the highlight for many of our attendees. They were encouraged to participate in visitor engagement programs in order to get the full Cincinnati Zoo experience. In addition, every animal department conducted a behind the scenes tour so that attendees could interact with animal care staff and share ideas about animal care, enrichment and training.   We received accolades about our beautiful grounds, various animal encounter programs and our welcoming keeper staff. Since we are so close to our zoo neighbor to the north the attendees also spent a conference day at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium. The day spent at the Columbus Zoo was also a great experience for the group, and it was great to be able to show off 2 of Ohio’s great zoos!

Night Hunter staff Rhonda shows off her aardwolf training


Wings of Wonder staff did a special bird presentation for the attendees (shown here is a rhinoceros hornbill)

Zoo Pride

Throughout the week we showed off how amazing our Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden village is and how we work together to achieve a common goal.  We were excited and grateful to bring the conference to our city and zoo and to be able to share our animal care program with attendees from around the globe, as well as collect new and innovative ways to provide quality care for our animals.  We are proud to be a part of an organization that supports forward progress with employee education, as well as animal care, wellbeing and training.