The Hummingbird Buzz: AnimalConcepts Newsletter #1

You can download the newsletter here The Hummingbird Buzz: AnimalConcepts Newsletter #1

Welcome Sabrina!

Sabrina will work as a remote collaborator on the Illustrated Handbook of Zoo-keeping.
This is an ICZ project that aims to provide keepers with a simple yet comprehensive guide to improve their safety and animal husbandry through the use of images.

Growing up in a family of veterinarians, she soon developed a strong fondness towards animals and nature in general. That bond eventually brought her to her first professional experience in the field: she started working as a trainer and caretaker of birds of prey in a theme park in Rome, seven years ago. Later she had many experiences as a volunteer in zoological parks and wildlife rehabilitation centres, both in Italy and in The Netherlands.

Sabrina worked as a full-time animal care professional, focusing her attention not only on animal husbandry and training, but also on public awareness through
numerous educational activities, such as speeches, demonstrations and laboratories.

During these years, she expanded her skills working with a wide variety of species, including primates, reptiles, large carnivores, birds and many others species.

As member of AIGZOO, the Italian Association of Zookeepers, she continues her professional training attending courses and workshops regarding general husbandry, training, enrichment and conservation.

During her free time, she is devoted to another great passion: nature and wildlife photography. In her numerous travels, she always enjoys natural excursions and never misses a chance to visit other zoos and centres of zoological interest to take photos and connect with colleagues from all over the world.

"This experience will be a great chance for me to help improving animal welfare in a complete different way, to expand my knowledge about the Animal-human bond, while working on a very exciting project that combines my two passions: nature and photography.”


Welcome Madison!

Madison will work as a research assistant on the PhD project '24/7 across lifespan: zoo animal and human wellbeing'.
"I am excited to work with people who share my values and are so dedicated to improving the quality of life of animals."

Madison's journey as an animal welfare scientist began with an assignment in the second grade which posed the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” She answered “zookeeper,” and though this answer changed many times over the years to anything from actress to archaeologist, her interest in animals was reignited while studying for her undergraduate degree. In May of 2018, Madison graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Part of her course involved an internship at a local humane association where she trained shelter dogs with the intent to help them find their forever homes.

It was this first experience with dogs which solidified her desire to continue working with animals. As an undergraduate, she participated in several research projects, including one at the University of Stirling in Scotland, where she researched dog welfare and first heard of the Master’s program she would later undertake at the University of Edinburgh. In the summer following her graduation, Madison was an education and animal husbandry intern at an AZA accredited zoo near her home. The experience improved her understanding of animal behavior and welfare, and she gained many skills in animal care as well as a heightened interest in captive animal welfare.

Recently, Madison completed her Master’s course in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare at the University of Edinburgh. During her studies, she also volunteered as an assistant dog coach with Dog’s Trust in Edinburgh and was an animal care volunteer at a nearby zoo.
Although Madison is still beginning her career as an animal welfare scientist, she has loved the experiences she’s already had and is looking forward to new opportunities to work towards improving the lives of animals.


Welcome Margherita!

Margherita will help with the organisation of all media (videos & photos) related content. "Working with AnimalConcepts allows me to express my passion for animal welfare into concrete actions that will help both animals and their caregivers"

Margherita has always loved animals and especially learning what makes them tick. She grew up in various countries around the world but really managed to focus her passion in Eritrea during her teens. There, she started to understand the delicate balances that are at play in unique ecosystems and uncontaminated habitats. She studied Natural Sciences and then went on to study Ethology, which she found to be her true vocation. Margherita's career took her to a series of different settings, from a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa to protected areas in Portugal and Spain. These work experiences and her solid work ethics led her to become a passionate otter expert and she is now collaborating closely with the IUCN/SSC Otter Specialist Group, is on the board of the WWF Italy and helps manage the WWF YOUng Italy.

Positive, creative and motivated, Margherita is looking forward to working with projects that will help experts and people who work with animals all around the world increase animal welfare and learn more about the individuals they care for. Research, educational material and outreach programs are what she is most passionate about.


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