Welcome Sara Torres!

AnimalConcepts welcomes Sara Torres Ortiz who will be working as a remote collaborator on a variety of animal welfare, care and behaviour related projects and is excited about "an opportunity to expand my understanding on animal-human relationships and to provide tools for an objective research approach in order to reach high quality conclusions."

Sara Torres Ortiz is a researcher at the University of Southern Denmark where she finished her master studies on animal behavior and bioacoustics in 2016.

She is originally from Spain, where she completed her MSc studies in oceanography at the University of Cadiz.

As a researcher, Sara works on many different research projects involving animal behavior and bioacoustics, both in the field and in the lab. When she first arrived in Denmark, she assisted in training groups of grey seals, cormorants, and parrots that participated in hearing and/or cognition tasks.

During her time with Montpellier University she investigated the sensory abilities of whales in Spain and Iceland in the field.

Sara has also worked with bottlenose dolphins at Dolphin Adventure in Mexico, both in a training and in a research capacity.

With an ongoing project she is studying the behavior and communication of wild harbor porpoises using drones.

Currently, Sara is starting her PhD with the Max Planck institute in Loro Parque working with cognitive abilities on parrots and dolphins.

Sarah Torres

Welcome Caitlin Ball!

AnimalConcepts welcomes Caitlin Ball who will be working as a collaborator on research projects, publications, communications, and operations, and is, "trilled to work on and contribute to a wide variety of meaningful activities."

Caitlin’s passion for animals and conservation began with spending most of her childhood outdoors. Having been raised in southern Africa, Central & North America, and the Middle East, she was immersed in and learned about a wide variety of biomes and animals so she has always felt strongly about the importance of protecting biodiversity and helping it flourish. Her passion for this was solidified during 8 years in southern Africa where she spent free time volunteering with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty for Animals and visiting sanctuaries and game parks, learning about the ongoing mass extinction.

Last year, she graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder with a degree in International Relations focused on development and the environment. During her education she took a series of philosophy courses that related to human-animal-environment relationships. Additionally, she spent several months in India doing a field study program on sustainable development and social change, completing independent research on water conservation project management in Sikkim.

Over the course of Caitlin’s professional experience she has worked at the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the United States Agency for International Development’s Water Resources and Environment Office in Jordan, and US Embassies in Jordan and the Republic of Georgia. Through her travels and these various positions she has studied many languages and has published magazine articles, blog posts, and success stories on a variety of topics, including the zoo and aquarium community, extinction, climate change, and resource conservation. Furthermore, she has gained experience in a diverse range of skills that includes administration, outreach, diplomacy, research, and events, among others.

Specific projects she looks forward to working on include human-animal relationships, primate care, welfare and protection in collaboration with the Pan-African Sanctuary Alliance, and policy research.


Animal Welfare and Animal Training

We have a little thought experiment:

Learn how to drive with an incommunicative instructor who does not give much feedback on what to do, who is not very considered when you make a mistake, who might slam the breaks to make a point, or gets out of the car without telling you what was wrong, or rarely gives you positive feedback. It is likely that you are not looking forward to your next lesson.


Learn how to drive with a communicative instructor, who breaks the different parts you need to master into smaller steps, gives you plenty of feedback, directions and encouragement, does not make a big deal of the mistakes you make, and tries to anticipate and prevent mistake by clear communication. This instructor makes it clear not to worry but to keep trying, reinforcing what you do right consistently in a variety of ways. With joy you think about your next lesson.

Which instructor would you choose? We think all prefer to be around positive, communicative, and encouraging individuals.

How does this relate to animal training? If you already train animals you will have noticed quite a few similarities between the methods used to teach humans a skill like driving a car, or teaching a tapir to stand on a scale to be weighed. It matters how all animals, including the human animal, are treated, how they feel, and depending on the methods used to teach new skills or anything else, this can be experienced in positive or negative manners. As we want to promote predominantly positive welfare we need to be cognisant and attentive to how we interact and communicate.

Setting up the environment to avoid and or reduce negative stressors like e.g. unknown objects or loud noises can make a big difference as to how the interaction is perceived. Animal care professionals can facilitate learning to e.g. introduce new objects to animals gradually and on their terms, by e.g. providing a hide to retreat to. Providing choices or control over what happens and when can be a powerful communication which can help build good human-non human animal relationships, trust and confidence.

Promoting positive welfare is fundamental when caring for animals, which needs to be considered in all routines, the ways we clean, feed, interact (remember, each interaction is a learning event/opportunity), formally train or implement and conduct environmental enrichment programs. It is wise to ask questions throughout and consider for example:

  • Why do we train?
  • When are we training?
  • What behaviours do we train?
  • How do habitats need to be designed to facilitate positive training and learning?
  • What is the influence of the habitat on animal learning and behaviour?
  • What methods do we use, and what tools?
  • Who should do the training?
  • How have animals evolved, what are their physical and mental capacities, their sensory systems, how do they develop?
  • What do we need to consider regarding learning and training when designing enrichment programs?
  • Do the questions above differ for about animals in conservation and reintroduction programs?
  • How does my body language or voice affect the animal?

There are a lot of questions to be considered when we want to achieve our training goals and promote positive animal welfare. Setting up the environment to acknowledge an individual and or species' need does not only make it more likely learning is a more positive experience but also likely more successful and faster, as it is on the animal's terms. An arboreal animal might at first be frightened to participate in training when we ask her or him to come down to a lower level or the ground, so next time you go out there think of a higher perch or establish a safe platform for you to work from, going closer to the animals, or giving the animal a choice on where to sit or come down to. The animal might be more likely to come over when training is done close to the place where the animal is comfortable at first, like higher up in a tree.

Teaching animals behaviours that aid in voluntarily participation in their daily and or regular care such as weighing, opening the mouth or inspecting the teeth, monitor temperature or take a blood sample can all be valuable. Shifting from one area or holding area to another, coming in or going outside on cue, or to separate off from the group are other important animal management behaviours that can be very useful and making these behaviours positive to engage in when rewarded after completion. Regular voluntary cooperation for medical and or other management behaviours give animals the choice to voluntarily collaborate and interact with the caretakers. We can ask animals whether they want to shift, open their mouth, sit on scales or station next to another animal. Animals can decide whether they want to do this, or not, this is one of the ways we can give more control to animals.

In order to promote positive animal welfare it is important for animal care professionals to understand consequences, also called reinforcers (adding something they like such as food, or removing something they do not like such as pressure, to increase or maintain behaviour), and punishers (removing things they like or adding something that frightens them to reduce or eliminate behaviour). When thinking about reinforcers and punishers we need to consider them in detail, how and why in detail, with regard to e.g. the intensity, and frequency. It is important to understand other ways of learning beyond operant conditioning, and aspects that influence animal welfare positively and negatively, for example hunger and thirst, social life, the environment, new people or visitors in zoos and aquariums, which may influence motivation and willingness to collaborate. Beside a good and current understanding of learning and behaviour we need to consider how animals have evolved, type of habitat(s) and social aspects, sensory systems, nutritional aspects, and many other animal welfare topics when promoting positive animal welfare. Learning about and from other animals is a lifelong endeavour and commitment and we always learn from other care professionals and trainers too. We look forward to sharing and learning to promote positive animal welfare and happy people!

Life with Animals…a blog.

We are delighted to be in the process of extending our website, with a blog dedicated to training animals, animals training humans’, animal welfare, the science behind all of this and some thoughts in regard to current topics! A blog and website that reflect professional and modern animal training approaches. Exchanges that are based on a two-way communicative and interactive perspective, where both the animal and human learn, propose, and experience together.
The idea of a blog developed out of a shared passion for animals as sentient and thinking beings, the science and practice of animal cognition, learning and training, and the years of collaboration and friendship.

We believe effective and joyful training is a combination of fun, science, empathy, and patience. To build relationships with animals based on trust and respect and offering animals choice and control. Professional and modern animal care considers animal behaviour, cognition and affective states as well as their individual personalities, needs and preferences. It is dynamic; evolving as animals and humans interact, and as new practical knowledge and science becomes available.
A professional caretaker/trainer continues to develop a deeper understanding of the natural history, ecology, social life, sensory systems, psychology, and emotions of the species and individuals they are interacting with. They spend lots of time watching, listening and learning! They continue to strive to provide the best quality of life.

We looking forward to writing and sharing and we would love to hear from our friends and colleagues.

Feel free to discuss with us via


Celebrating our partnership!

AnimalConcepts is Celebrating Partnership!

We are delighted to share exciting news with you:

We are joining forces for animals!

Caring for animals in a variety of settings such as wildlife parks, zoos, aquaria, research laboratories, farms or at your home.

Both of us have had the pleasure to work with lovely individuals who shared their inventive games, their curiosity, fears, anxiety, resistance, confidence and joys. Animals who show us what they want, what they prefer, show us their point of view. And we try to listen and see! We ask ourselves: What matters to this individual, what does she/ he want and/ or need? To strive to provide optimal welfare and the best quality of life.

Dedicated to animals, and the humans in their lives.

Sabrina Brando & Martina Schiestl



"Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not." - Samuel Johnson

Sometime I speak with animal caretakers or trainers who do not really want to work with certain species or individuals. I also recognise it from working in departments where there were a mix of species and I was spending undoubtably more time in some than others. Sometimes these thoughts and feelings come from not knowing the species or individual well and spending more time and energy can bring us closer and we can be pleasantly surprised, and fondness can grow.

Of course we all have our favourites and some animals we like more than others but as professionals we have to stay alert that all animals under our care get similar quality and quantity of care. I am sure we know this but it is almost inevitable that it happens, spending more time or providing more activities (including training, enrichment, favourite foods, playing games, being together, etc.) with the animals we prefer to hang out with.

When I saw this quote I had to think of this, equal care and kindness to all. As animal care professional we can and are doing this, but it never hurts to remind oneself once in a while - there is a reason we call ourselves 'creatures of habit'. All animals we care for should have a meaningful, fun, protected, engaging, good quality of life.

Giving & showing kindness is in all of us Happy


Credit in the bank?

Credit in the bank?

Bank accounts function best with credit on them, bank accounts with a balance in the red numbers is not very functional and pretty stressful, especially to the person who owes money.

Comparing your relationship with animals you care for as a bank account statement seems a strange thing to do, but really is it so strange? Some years ago we had talk about this at a job I was in at the time and it stuck with me. It is an old idea which seems to circle round and pops up once in a while in different forums on animal training and care. I try to remind myself of this all the time because it is easy to loose out of sight for various reasons.

One of the reason is time. Zoos are notoriously understaffed and we do things quickly and not always thinking it through, what the interaction could do to short - and longterm relationships we build with animals.

Another reason is our sometimes egocentric viewpoint, thinking that we mean the world to the animals, that what we do and who we are is what the animals want, taking their trust, their loyalty and cooperation for granted. But we have to think about what the animals are doing for us, and what we can do for them.

Another reason is that we forget about what we do and how. We often remember the cool and nice interactions with the animals. The training sessions, the attention, the enrichment and the new food item which they liked so much. We tend to downplay the unpleasant cleaning routine or the last catch for a preventive health check or inoculation. We are often too hasty in our interactions because there is so much to do.

For a healthy “financial status” you need to ensure enough money goes into your account, some expenses (debit) are more then others depending on their value, and some income (credit) is higher then others, depending on the work done. So feeding and positively interacting / playing with the animals have different values than when we catch or scare the animals.

For a good relationship with the animals we work with we need to invest to balance. We need to make sure that we have more positive interactions than negative ones, so that animals know that we mean well and they can trust us.

A short video by Dr. Susan Friedman on this topic can be found here

Brooms are for cleaning, not for poking.

Brooms are for cleaning, not for poking.

A broom is a cleaning tool. Brooms, they come in different shapes, colors and sizes, and we usually use them to tidy and scrub. We might have a broom for cleaning indoor areas, and others for the outside, or only drains. We can have brooms for the quarantine areas, other brooms for scrubbing algae of pools. We have brooms with long handles, but also brooms with short and sturdy ones. Broom can be wood, metal or plastic, with bristles from broomcorn and/or sotol fiber. So brooms are for cleaning. Broom in zoos are for cleaning, and well of course, they could in a positive way be used as enrichment items too!

But brooms in zoos have also acquired other purposes as well, we use them to poke animals, block animals going places, move animals where we want them to be, or to keep a safe distance between us and them (example wattled crane safety - great target training!), and I have been guilty of this too in the past. Preferably animals are trained to voluntarily cooperate in their care, but there are moments when more negative tools are needed to ensure safety of animal and keeper and or manage the animals.

I would like to suggest that we separate the different tools so we are not sending conflicting messages and or scare animals unnecessarily. If we need to keep animal at safe distance this can be done with another type of sticks or a herding board, and the same for separating or moving animals. We can and should use these tools in the least obtrusive manner, and at the lowest intensity. Don’t forget that with the broom we also change our body language, voice, our demeanor, so what we signal is often (perhaps unintentionally) of a high intensity already.
If we use these tools we have to do so carefully, and always be conscious of the fact that we have to fade out these methods as much as possible. So if you need a stick to move animals now, you should be working towards not having to use it anymore, just asking the animals to move outside or inside should be enough and works well. The problem of using the broom is also that animals can easily develop fear (or aggressive) responses to the broom. So even when you do not come to push them out with the broom, and just come for cleaning, the broom can trigger agitation, fear and anxiety.

Brooms are a frequently used item in enrichment but also in training as a reinforcer. That this can be very reinforcing and pleasurable for animals can be seen in the article on the Forth Worth Zoo with photos and a video and monkey enrichment at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park.
Many keepers know that all types of brushes (soft, hard,big and small), fixed or mobile can be very popular!

With the daily tools we use to care for the animals we should make sure that they have a positive view of these objects, whether broom, rake, hose or other. I think that non of these should be used to scare animals, to move them or to keep distance (unless you have a very good reason, like an emergency).
We can take a moment to think through the scenarios and decide on which tools will be used for which procedures.
Please think about which tools to use if you do need to use aversive ones, like a stick or herding board, and think through how it is used at the lowest intensity. Preferably also take the next step of teaching voluntary collaboration. This make it all much more relaxed and fun for both you and the animals!

So next time you see and use a broom, hose, rake or other tools to care for animals, make sure this item is and stays positive. We care, and we do not want to scare. We are caregivers, not scaregivers.

© The Aspinall Foundation

Boekrecensie "Dierenbeul van Twente"

Boekrecensie "Dierenbeul van Twente"

Dit is één van die boeken die je wílt lezen, maar eigenlijk niet wilt lezen. Velen zullen gehoord hebben van de “dierenbeul van Twente”, de psychopaat die niet alleen dieren mishandelde en vermoordde maar ook een zwerver doodde en drie aanslagen op mensen heeft gepleegd. Sander Wageman heeft het verhaal van Henk ten Napel en de dierenbeul van Twente herschreven. Ondanks het zware onderwerp heb ik dit boek in een dag uitgelezen. Door de geëngageerde en persoonlijke manier van schrijven over Henk ten Napel, inclusief zijn correspondentie met de dierenbeul, wordt je meegenomen in de speurtocht en de missie voor rechtvaardigheid.

Op 12 juli 2001 hoort Henk ten Napel over de verschrikkelijke toetakeling van zijn merrie Twenga: ze is met een scherp voorwerp in haar schede gestoken. Gelukkig overleeft Twenga de afschuwelijke daad maar Henk laat het hier niet bij zitten. Dierenmishandelingen zijn niet vreemd in Nederland, maar doorgaans zeer moeilijk op te lossen. Henk ten Napel maakt duidelijk dat niet alleen de casussen ingewikkeld zijn maar ook dat door de vaak laconieke houding van de politie de daders bijna nooit gevonden worden. “Wat is dit zinloze geweld tegen dieren, waarom doen mensen dit?” Veel van dit soort gedachten spelen door Henk z’n hoofd en door woede en onbegrip besluit hij zelf op onderzoek uit te gaan in het weiland. Daar vindt hij het eerste spoor: platgebogen gras; de dader zal zich wel een tijd verstopt hebben voordat hij of zij ingestoken heeft op Wenga. De ergernis over de voornamelijk passieve houding van de politie in combinatie met woede en onbegrip, vormen zich om in actie. Actie om zelf te gaan zoeken naar de persoon die Wenga heeft toegetakeld. De lezer kan niets anders dan beamen wat Henk denkt: “Na dit beslissende moment denk ik alleen nog maar na over het opsporen van de Beul van Twente. Een monster dat al een jaar de regio teistert en nu één cruciale fout heeft gemaakt: hij kwam aan het verkeerde paard. Mijn paard!” De zoektocht is begonnen.

Henk begint te schrijven om deze vreselijke gebeurtenissen meer aan het licht te brengen. Hij begint ook met het verzamelen van data over alle incidenten die gemeld worden en die in de kranten voorkomen. Systematisch komt Henk erachter dat dierenmishandeling veel vaker voorkomt dan in eerste instantie gedacht. Dieren worden verminkt, gestoken en vermoord. Het duurt niet lang voordat Henk besluit een stichting in het leven te roepen: de Stichting Zinloos Geweld tegen Dieren. De stichting is nog nieuw maar de telefoontjes en e-mails stromen binnen, van mensen die willen helpen tot mensen die hun verdriet en onmacht willen delen over de dieren die zij liefhadden en verloren hebben. Vrienden en vrijwilligers zetten zich in en na de data bekeken te hebben worden er plannen gesmeed voor een heuse buurtwacht. De buurtwacht gaat er ’s nachts op uit om te kijken of ze de dader te pakken kunnen krijgen maar helaas, het mocht niet zo zijn. De meldingen van andere mishandelingen en moorden op dieren blijven helaas binnenkomen en Henk vraagt zich af of ze de dader ooit te pakken zullen krijgen.

In april 2005 wordt Henk gebeld. Een man die verdacht wordt van de mishandeling en moorden op dieren en mensen is gearresteerd. Na vijf jaar onderzoek en lang wachten is er dan eindelijk een doorbraak door een fout van de dader. De dierenbeul van Twente is eindelijk gepakt.

Na een korte procedure wordt moordenaar en dierenbeul Rudolf Kasebier tot levenslang veroordeeld. Dieren worden in de wet nog steeds als eigendommen gezien, en mishandeling wordt juridisch 'vernieling' genoemd. Een andere status voor dieren zou vervolging en strafhoogte zeker veranderen, en de dieren de erkenning en het respect geven dat hen als individuen toebehoort.

De dader die Wenga heeft mishandeld is echter nooit gevonden. Helaas lopen er nog steeds mensen rond in Nederland (en wereldwijd) die dieren op vreselijke manieren mishandelen en vermoorden. Deze daden kunnen, zoals ook beschreven in dit boek, omslaan naar het mishandelen en vermoorden van mensen. Dit boek levert om 4 redenen een belangrijke bijdrage: om deze daden meer aan het licht te brengen, om het gevaar voor dier en mens aan te tonen, om de kracht van een individu en groep te tonen om zelf aan oplossingen en acties bij te dragen en ten slotte om iets van inzicht te krijgen in de motivaties van de dader.

Het boek is ook een belangrijke aanvulling op de literatuur over de mens-dier relatie en een werk dat aan de basis stond van de Stichting Zinloos Geweld tegen Dieren. Niet alleen de persoonlijke verhalen van Henk ten Napel over zijn geliefde paard Wenga, maar ook zijn correspondentie met de dierenbeul Rudolf Kasebier maken dit boek interessant en aangrijpend om te lezen!

De dierenbeul van Twente
Sander Wagerman

Meer informatie over de Stichting Zinloos Geweld tegen Dieren kan via deze LINK gevonden worden.

Foto boek dierenbeul Twentezinloosgewelddieren logo

How can I make you feel better today?

How can I make you feel better today?

I watched an episode of Royal Pains, an easy going and fun series about a concierge doctor’s practice called HankMed in the Hamptons. When answering the phone they say: “How can we make you feel better today?”.

In the past when I was still working full-time in a zoo I often forgot to focus on the details, because I was so swamped with work and full filing the needs of our visiting public, safety ect. For example, I did not always notice that the bedding material was less in quantity or not of good quality and the nest building of our small rodents was OK but not ideal. With the marine mammals like dolphins, seals, seal lions and walruses we used some enrichment devices but most objects would only float and were hard to take to the bottom, or to interact with in the water column.
By paying more attention details, to quality as well as quantity of life we can make positive changes for the animals we care for.

Of course I am not suggesting that all the animals we take care of are sick or not having good welfare, but I do like this client-centred approach where one is sensitive to another’s needs, such as comfort, the feeling of being important and cared for. The animals we care for are all important individuals and I like the idea of asking “how can I make you feel important today?”. What is it that I can do for you to make it better? How can I make your environment safe, complex, stimulating, etc.? How do I provide for social opportunities, for learning new skills, for relaxed sleeping and resting areas, and what can I do to make you feel good, to make you feel important and cared for?

Animal care is a dynamic profession and field, and we are continually learning about the different species, and individuals every day about the individuals we care for, and we keep learning about the different species and individuals that we care for. How can we this theory and knowledge to the best of our abilities, and apply it to improving practical daily care?
We should not do what we do just because, just because we have always done it this way. A common sentiment and hurdle in the progress of animal care, and obstacle to providing the animals with the best welfare standards and according to best practice.
We should challenge the status quo and push the envelope, challenge ourselves and our programs to ensure we do it at best practice levels, and exceed in providing the best care.
If every time I come to work I ask “how can I make you feel important today?”, I will hopefully try my utmost to care for the individual animal and or the group.

Professional animal care goes way beyond cleaning and feeding. Enrichment, training, complex environments, adequate nutrition, appropriate social groups for social animals, choice and control over the environment, excellent human - animal relationships, they all are building blocks in professional animal care programs that hold animal welfare as the priority and at the highest standards.

So next time you go to work at the zoo, shelter, or even with your pets and other animals at home, make sure to ask “How can I make you feel better today?”.

Pasted Graphic