ABMA Annual Conference

The ABMA will host a 2021 virtual conference!  Join us on this exciting adventure 29 April-1 May!  

Quality Connections:  Ready, Set, Train


IFAW will be our conservation partner for 2021! We are proud to share part of your registration for this amazing project that utilizes behavior management to help with koala conservation. 

Upload your conference photos here!  **By uploading your photo(s) you agree to the ABMA photograph general disclaimer:  The undersigned (the "Photographer") hereby irrevocably grants to the Animal Behavior Management Alliance (the “ABMA") full and complete permission to use the photos submitted in any ABMA publication, including, but not limited to, use and display on newsletters, illustrations, advertisements, and internet content. With the exception of the foregoing, ABMA makes no claims to ownership of the submitted photographs and ownership rights are retained by the Photographer. 

Quick Links for Conference Information


Did you know that ABMA’s Behavior Management Fund (BMF) committee is providing a virtual scholarship for 10 lucky presenters this year!

This scholarship is to assist anyone whose institution is unable to give them financial support. This will help an award recipient the ability to present their work and help the organization by giving our membership the opportunity to hear information that supports the ABMA’s Core Value of “Sharing the Knowledge”.  The scholarship deadline for the 2021 annual conference has passed.  

The Scholarship will provide:

  • Virtual conference registration for the winners to present.

Application Requirements:

  • Applicant may not have received this scholarship in the previous year.
  • Applicant must submit the online abstract submission form, checking the BMF Virtual scholarship box within the form, and complete the additional scholarship questions after checking the BMF Virtual scholarship box within the online form. Incomplete submissions will not be considered. It is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure application materials are complete; applicants will not be notified if the application materials are incomplete.

The abstract submission deadlines for the annual conference are:
15 January- Abstracts due
mid January- Winner notified
end of January- Winner accept/deny

Application Process:

There are 3 required components of the Virtual scholarship application:

  1. Complete the online form. Don’t forget to check the box for BMF Scholarship.
  2. Complete the questions within the online abstract submission form after you check the box for the BMF virtual scholarship.
  3. The Scholarship winners must officially accept the award within one week of email notification, otherwise, the award will be offered to the runner-up.

If you have a behavior management accomplishment, an intriguing case study, a research project, or an innovation for the field, especially one that resonates with the theme of the conference, please come share it with your colleagues!  Announcing the first call for abstract submissions for the 2021 conference.  The deadline to submit your abstract for the 2021 annual conference has passed. 

Abstracts are evaluated on the following parameters:  quality of the abstract, content and subject matter of the paper, application of the ABMA mission statement, and incorporation of the theme of the conference.  Please keep in mind that we receive a number of quality submissions each year, and not all abstracts can necessarily be accepted for presentation.  When your abstract is accepted for either a poster or presentation you are required to submit a paper for the conference proceedings prior to presenting.  This submission deadline is one week before the conference.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the Conference Content Advisory Committee Co-Chairs or the 2021 1st Vice President.

Presentation slots are 30 minutes total.  Presenters should plan for a few minutes of questions afterwards.  It is encouraged to be available for questions throughout the remainder of the conference.  Poster presentations will be part of the virtual conference as well.  For the virtual conference, all presentations must be pre-recorded.  Details on your presentation will be emailed to you if you are selected as a presenter. 

Tentative timeline for 2021 Abstract Submissions are:

15 January-  abstracts due by midnight EST

mid-January- notifications to presenters

late January- presenters accept/decline

11 April- papers due for proceedings


AAZK and IMATA members can receive the ABMA member rate!  Please download & submit the registration form.   

Conference Pricing:  

Member rate- $60/day or $150/week 
*This allows 1 ABMA member to attend per day or for the week (3 days). 
*You will be able to participate in live chats during the conference. 
*There is no deadline to register as a member.
*You will have access to view the presentations for 90 days after the conference has ended.

Non-member rate- $80/day or $200/week
*This allows 1 person (not an ABMA member) to attend per day or for the week (3 days).  *You will be able to participate in live chats during the conference. 
*There is no deadline to register as a non-member.
*You will have access to view the presentations for 90 days after the conference has ended.

Facility rate- $1000 
*This allows 7 separate logins for the conference, which is the equivalent of 7 members from your facility to attend for the week.  This is ideal for large facilities that can view the conference from different computers around your facility. 
*You will be able to participate in live chats during the conference.  
*There is no deadline to register as a facility.
*You will have access to view the presentations for 90 days after the conference has ended. 

On Demand rate- $100 
*This allows for 1 person, regardless of membership status, to view all presentations AFTER the conference has ended.  The presentations will be available to view for 90 days after the conference has ended.   
*You will not be able to participate in live chats.   
*There is no deadline to register for the On Demand rate.

General schedule of events:
29 April - 1 May- keynote, invited speakers, presentations

**See program for more detailed schedule** 

Contact us if you have any questions.

100% until 30 days before the start of the conference
50% from 29 days until 8 days before the conference
No refunds starting the week before the conference

We typically offer CEU’s for a variety of organizations.  Once the program is finalized we will submit for credits and post here.  

We look forward to seeing you at our first virtual conference!

There is no conference hotel for the 2021 virtual conference.  You can join us from home, work, school, or wherever!

The only transportation you'll need to join us for the 2021 virtual conference is how to get to a computer with high-speed internet.  

Our annual conference would not be possible without the support of our sponsors. Thank you!  If you would like more information on how to become a sponsor, please contact us! 


There will be no site visits for the 2021 ABMA virtual conference.  

There will be no badge entries for nearby facilities for the 2021 virtual conference.

There are many questions you may have about our virtual conference.  We'll be posting more information soon about the platform we'll be using, how to log in, and what to expect.


Our keynote speech will be a panel discussion entitled "Connections" and will discuss the animal-human bond as well as mental well-being during a pandemic. 

Invited speakers for the ABMA virtual conference will be doing a presentation each day for 60-90 minutes.  We are excited to share their knowledge and insight with you! 

Hillary Hankey (Thursday 29 April)

Less Stress With More Flex – What Are You Missing In Your Toolkit? 

With a singular focus on positive reinforcement as the driving force of empowerment, we can miss other choice-based opportunities for the animals in our care to communicate their needs and wants in the training relationship. This presentation explores scenarios in which a nuanced approach to reinforcement, combining positive and negative reinforcement, can help us look past more rigid uses of conditioning principles that can lead to stress and confusion for the animal. We will put our actions under a microscope and utilize timing and reinforcers in an intentional way. In turn, this helps us accurately assess what is actually at play in the training session and use these principles to each of our advantage, propelling forward our skills, understanding, and accountability as a trainer and learner of animal behavior.

Everyone who knew Hillary Hankey growing up is not surprised that she started Avian Behavior International. Located near San Diego California, ABI is a bird education and conservation organization focused on integrated conservation experiences and progressive training technology.  With ABI, she has stayed with the Waurá tribe in the backwaters of the Amazon, flown birds through the Rainbow Arch of Lake Powell, produced free flying bird programs for zoological parks, and explored new ways to help others contribute to conserving our planet through avian ambassadors. Through ABI and her online membership program, the Avian Behavior Lab, she continues to set goals to help animal trainers and companion animal caregivers in a deeper, more meaningful way and be part of a movement with high standards of ethical behavior management and presenting free-flying birds in educational programs in zoos and similar organizations globally.

Gary Wilson (Thursday 29 April)

Making Quality Connections at Moorpark College

The Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at Moorpark College has been teaching
aspiring animal trainers how to make quality connections with their animals for almost 50
years. Gary Wilson has been steering the animal training curriculum for 35 of those years. In
this live presentation from the college’s animal facility, America’s Teaching Zoo, Gary will share his thoughts on training trainers and his students will demonstrate what they have been able to achieve in training some of the college’s 110 animals.

Gary Wilson is the senior professor in the Exotic Animal Training and Management
Program at Moorpark College, Moorpark, California. He was hired at the college in 1985
to take over as program coordinator from retiring EATM founder William Brisby. He did
the job of overseeing the program, keeping the curriculum up-to-date, and managing the
college's Exotic Animal Compound. Starting in 1990, Gary managed the operation of
America's Teaching Zoo, the college’s on-campus animal facility, which he helped design
and build. In 2001, Gary returned to teaching full-time. Over his career, Gary has taught
many of the courses offered by the EATM program but his favorites are Animal Diversity,
Animal Behavior, and Animal Training. As the animal training professor, he has had
the opportunity to work with a wide range of animals including monkeys, camels, big
cats, large reptiles, and birds of prey.
Gary graduated from the EATM program in 1977 and then worked as a contractor to the
US Navy, training bottlenose dolphins, sea lions, and belugas. In 1980, he returned to
school to earn a B.A. in environmental and evolutionary biology (1982) and an M.A. in
biological sciences (1985), both at UC Santa Barbara. He worked briefly as a relief keeper
at the Santa Barbara Zoological Gardens.
From 1998 to 2000, Gary helped create the Animal Behavior Management Alliance, a
membership organization comprised of animal care professionals and other individuals
dedicated to advancing animal behavior management in order to enhance the husbandry
and welfare of animals. After its formation, he served on its board of directors as
the chief financial officer. Since 2003, he has been a member of the Director’s Advisory
Committee on Humane Care and Treatment of Wild Animals for the California Depart
of Fish and Wildlife. Gary contributed two chapters to Zookeeping: An Introduction to
the Science and Technology, published in 2013. In 2015, he was given the Hal
Markowitz Wellness Award from the San Francisco Zoological Society and named the
Distinguished Faculty Chair at Moorpark College for the 2015-2016 academic year.


Barbara Heidenreich (Friday 30 April)

Exotic Animal Training: The Constructional Approach to Addressing Extreme Fear Responses and Aggressive Behavior

In zoological settings we are training everything from snarling big cats to flighty herds of antelopes. Traditionally our first step has involved delivering preferred food items. But some animals present such extreme fear responses or aggressive behavior in the presence of humans, that food holds little value. Trying to use systematic desensitization and keeping animals below threshold can be challenging to apply for many reasons. Results are often slowly realized in these cases, if at all. The constructional approach empowers animals to replace fear or aggressive behavior with desired responses. Using this procedure, the animal is approaching to accept appetitives usually within one or two sessions. When applying the constructional approach in zoos, we have a number of different challenges to address such as enclosure design, limited visibility, needing to know the natural history of the species, and how to apply the protocol to a group of animals. This presentation will address questions such as what is maintaining undesired behavior, why the usual advice of superimposition of positively reinforced behavior is less successful, and why behavioral interventions are non-linear. It will also provide video examples of how the constructional approach is helping a variety of species of animals commonly cared for in zoos.

Barbara Heidenreich is an animal training consultant specializing in exotic animals. She consults worldwide working with zoos, universities, veterinary professionals, and conservation projects. She has worked with over 80 facilities in 27 countries. She is an adjunct instructor at Texas A & M University. She has produced seven DVDs, authored two books and contributed to four veterinary textbooks.  She is a co-author of the Fear Free® Avian Certification Course. Much of her work focuses on training exotic species to cooperate in medical care. She operates the online education program www.AnimalTrainingFundamentals.com. Barbara is an advisor for the Animal Training Working Group and the Parrot Taxon Advisory Group for the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums. She has provided her expertise to conservation projects The Kakapo Recovery Program and The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. Her goal is to leave behind a legacy of kindness to animals by sharing her expertise. 


Social Media Panel (Friday 30 April)- Corina Newsome (Georgia Audubon), Erin McKinney (Discovery Cove), and Clay Carabajal 

Corina Newsome is the Community Engagement Manager for Georgia Audubon and a biology Master’s student at Georgia Southern University. Corina, who began in the field of wildlife conservation as a zookeeper, currently conducts research to conserve the MacGillivray's Seaside Sparrow and connects people with birds across the state of Georgia. Having experienced the hurdles faced by people of color interested in wildlife careers, she has founded several programs to encourage high school students from underrepresented demographics to consider careers in wildlife sciences. Corina’s mission is to center the perspectives and leadership of historically oppressed communities in wildlife conservation, environmental education, and exploration of the natural world.

Erin McKinney spent her college years working on zoological industry social media projects, including Awesome Ocean and ZooNation, while pursuing her degree in animal behavior.  She is currently a social media coordinator for the International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association, and presented on her work at the 2017 conference.  For her day job, she is a marine mammal trainer in Florida.  Erin is passionate about social media as a tool to drive the industry forward and thinks the intersection of animal training and digital content has endless potential.

Clay Carabajal is an international animal advocate and long time animal ambassador from San Antonio, Texas.  He has worked in the zoological field for more than fifteen years.  Spending the bulk of his career at SeaWorld in San Antonio.  Clay has worked with over 80 different species in various departments.  He has been featured on dozens of radio and television shows across the United States.  He has created and hosted animal presentations such Creepy Creatures, Amazing Animals, and SeaWorld Live! with Clay.  Clay has been a featured presenter alongside Jungle Jack Hanna, Bindi Irwin, Robert Irwin, and various conservation professionals.  After years of gaining experiences with reptiles, birds, mammals, insects, and marine mammals, Clay moved into a new role as Social Media Manager for SeaWorld San Antonio.  After a period of time, the animal field’s call was too loud to ignore and Clay returned to the zoological department.  Outside of SeaWorld, this father of three and husband of one, volunteers with a non-profit animal outreach called Zoomagination.  In late 2020, Clay launched a YouTube series called The Wild Side with Clay.  The series highlights species facts each week with an emphasis on the facilities and professionals that care for the creatures.  He is now beginning to tour to different locations and zoos presenting animal/conservation facts with his newly created “Live From The Wild Side with Clay” show. 

Thad & Angi Lacinak (Friday 30 April)

Targeting and Desensitization in Advanced Application 

Targeting and desensitization are often referred to as ‘foundation’ behaviors. There is good reason for this as they are stepping stones to virtually every complex behavior, particularly medical behaviors, that trainers request of animals in their care. The skillful application of these two ‘basic’ concepts, however, can yield impressively advanced results.  This presentation will provide video demonstrations with a variety of species including mammals, reptiles, birds and fish plus service dogs. 

At Precision Behavior, we have spent our careers living the positive reinforcement based principles that we teach while working with and learning from some of the world’s most amazing animals.  Established in 2009, PB consults with zoos, aquariums, service dog facilities, sanctuaries and shelters globally.  Prior to founding PB, Thad Lacinak retired from a 35-year career at Busch Entertainment Corporation as VP and Corporate Curator of Animal Training.  He is frequently sought by the media for his expertise and has been featured on Larry King Live, Fox News, and Good Morning America, among many other shows.  Thad is the author of three books: Whale Done and Whale Done Parenting with leadership guru, Ken Blanchard and The Whale Done School.  Angi Millwood Lacinak, also a founder of Precision Behavior, has worked in the zoological field for more than twenty-five years.  Her previous endeavors include being on the start-up team as Manager of Marine Mammals for the Atlantis Resort in Dubai, was on the opening team of Disney’s Animal Kingdom and was the Animal Training Coordinator of the Fort Worth Zoo, among other roles.  Angi holds a master’s degree in Anthrozoology and is currently completing her PhD from the University of Exeter.  In 2019, Thad and Angi's documentary, Elephant Trainer in the Room, became available for viewing on Amazon Prime.

Steve Martin (Saturday 1 May)

The Art of Training Animals


An artistic animal trainer goes beyond the basics of positive reinforcement training to fine tune antecedents and consequences and promote a level of learning that transcends basic animal training practices. The “Art” of animal training can be described as the intuitive application of scientific principles which have developed through practical experience working with animals and the people who care for them. The focus of this presentation is to describe animal training from this perspective, and provide video and live training demonstration.

Steve Martin is President/CEO of Natural Encounters, Inc. (NEI), a company of over 40 professional animal trainers who teach animal training strategies and produce inspirational and educational animal programs at zoological facilities around the world. Steve has consulted at over 120 zoological facilities in 16 countries helping them improve animal welfare through training and enrichment, and produce educational public programs. Though best known for his work with free-flight bird programs, most of his work involves teaching animal care professionals the art and science of behavior change principals focussing on positive reinforcement, and producing inspirational public programs designed to inspire caring that leads to conservation action. 

Steve teaches several animal-training workshops each year at zoological facilities and at the NEI Training and Education Center in Florida. He is an instructor at the AZA Animal Training School, an instructor at the Recon Elephant-training workshop, a member of the AZA Animal Behavior Advisory Group, he served on the AZA Animal Welfare Committee and is a Trustee with the World Parrot Trust. He is also President of Natural Encounters Conservation Fund, Inc. a non-profit company that has raised and donated over $1.3 million to insitu conservation programs. Steve Martin has a strong commitment to conservation and helping people understand their relationship with the living earth. The Mission Statement of NEI is “Connecting Humans With The Natural World” and Earth Day is an official holiday for all NEI employees. 


Anna Oblasser-Mirtl (Saturday 1 May)


Husbandry Training With Dogs Utilizing Cooperation Signals

Even though there has been an increase in positive reinforcement training in the dog training world, almost all medical and most husbandry procedures are still done without giving the dog a choice. Very often they are forced into stressful and painful situations, which compromises the dog’s welfare and can severely harm the individual human-dog relationship. 
We created a program utilizing a variety of easy-to-train cooperative behaviors that give dogs choices and control in scenarios where previously they had none. Our book (published in 2016) and our DVD (2018) have served as guides for many dog owners and trainers who want to improve their pet's welfare.  The live training demo includes training of cooperation signals as well as the presentation of up to 20 husbandry or medical procedures, covering everything from nail clipping to voluntary blood draws on stage.

Animal training has been Anna’s passion since her early childhood. After graduating from Moorpark College in the USA, she founded the AnimalTrainingCenter in Austria in 2006. Since then, Anna has created a team of experts that specialize in a wide range of applications of animal training, including: service dog training; pet dog training and behavior consulting; wildlife education; dog bite prevention programs; zoo animal training and consulting; and teaching seminars, including chicken training workshops as well as domestic and exotic animal training and behavior management workshops for professional animal trainers. In addition to the human team that Anna put together, the AnimalTrainingCenter is also home to approximately 60 animals, including 25 species, which all play invaluable roles in the company. Anna is not only a very skilled trainer and instructor, but also a state-certified judicial expert for dogs and the author of the book and DVD “Medical Training for Dogs.”


Peter Giljam

Growing up in the Netherlands, Peter was always curious about the natural world.  After completing two successful internships at Waterpark Neeltje Jans, where he had his first taste of the marine mammal world, Peter landed a job at Ouwehands Zoo in early 2005, working with California sea lions.  Attending the 2008 International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association (IMATA) conference was a game-changer for Peter; meeting trainers from all over the world inspired him to set higher standards for himself and his career development.  His animal training journey took him from working with walruses and bottle-nosed dolphins in Canada to training killer whales in Tenerife.  His work with a young deaf killer whale named Morgan, secured him the People’s Choice Award at the 2013 IMATA conference.  After a brief stint working with killer whales in France, Peter relocated to Sweden to work as a senior marine mammal trainer at Kolmården Wildlife Park.  Followed up as the animal training coordinator, he has taken on the challenge to change the culture of animal training across the organisation.  Serving on the board of IMATA as Vice President between 2016 and 2018 was a dream come true for Peter.  As the creator of Zoospensefull, Peter delivers thought-provoking presentations and workshops about training strategies and systems, applicable to all species and encourages animal professionals to ‘think outside the zoo’.  A passionate animal training and behaviour consultant, Peter is proficient in operant conditioning methodology and through his teaching you are bound to feel motivated and inspired to take on your next training project challenge.  Since March 2020 Peter focusses solely on bringing Zoospensefull to the next level to help share his knowledge through webinars and courses.  Zoospensefull is an international animal training and behaviour consultancy, for more information or to book Zoospensefull, please contact us at info@zoospensefull.com or visit our website zoospensefull.com.

To be green, the ABMA does not hand out printed programs. We will not have an app for the 2021 virtual conference.  The conference will begin daily at 10am Eastern/7am Pacific; Overseas times- 4pm London/6pm Tel Aviv/2am Sydney (the next day).

ABMA Conference Schedule of Events- details will be posted as they are finalized.

Thursday, 29 April: Keynote speaker, presentations, Guest Speaker- Hillary Hankey and Gary Wilson, live animal demonstration

Friday, 30 April: Presentations, Social Media panel, Guest Speaker- Barbara Heidenreich, Thad and Angie Lacinak, BMF Travel Scholarship winner- Kate Webb (APOPO), live animal demonstration, members business meeting

Saturday, 1 May: Presentations, Guest Speakers- Steve Martin, Anna Oblasser-Mirtl, and Peter Giljam, live animal demonstration

Thank you for attending the 2021 virtual conference!

Details will be posted as they are finalized. If you have questions, don't hesitate to contact us. We look forward to seeing you virtually!