Dr. Mark Penning is the Vice President: Animals, Science and Environment for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, overseeing animal care and environmental initiatives at the company’s parks and resorts around the world. Leveraging the meaningful field conservation initiatives supported by the company, his team shares inspirational stories and experiences of nature and animals with our theme park and resort Guests. His role includes oversight of the company’s use of animals in film and television from an animal welfare perspective and ensuring the responsible portrayal of animals. Mark is a veterinarian by training and was born and raised in South Africa. He owned and operated a veterinary hospital and a wildlife relocation business in South Africa before joining Walt Disney Parks and Resorts six years ago. He specialized in the treatment of birds and reptiles and has done surgical work in the field on lions, elephants and a host of other species. He previously served as CEO of the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR) based in Durban, South Africa, a non-profit organization dedicated to marine research and conservation. He has also served as President of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) based in Switzerland.


Keith Morris is an insightful corporate facilitator and speaker who has worked for more than 15 years to advance initiatives in organizations. His clients have ranged from academic institutions to Fortune 50 companies. Keith has facilitated discussions for business leaders across the USA, and in global locations like Kenya, Zambia, South Africa, and Canada. He has also worked for prestigious organizations including Walt Disney World Company, The Disney Institute, Duke University, and Fresh Point Foods. Keith has served as a trusted advisor to leaders at the Vice President, Senior Vice President, and C-Suite levels. He has developed a keen empathy for the needs of senior executives through his own experience as a senior-level operations leader. Keith is best known for his ability to foster an inclusive environment where all voices are heard and respected in service to the achievement of strategic objectives. He is celebrated for creating an emotionally safe learning environment where senior leaders can share and learn from each other. Keith is best known for helping his clients to get results. He assists them in “taking the next step” in their journey from awareness to action. Keith also has a rich and fascinating background that lends to his engaging training approach. Prior to his career as an operations executive, he worked as a trainer and researcher of threatened and endangered animal species. Keith has cared for animals like African Elephants, Black Rhinos, River Hippopotamus, Lowland Tapir, Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins, California Sea Lions, and Pacific Walrus. He led photo safaris to East Africa where he educated 22 participants on African wildlife conservation. Keith is a graduate of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, IL


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 educational animal programs at zoological facilities around the world. Though best known for his work with free-flight bird programs, most of his work involves teaching mammal trainers the art and science of behavior change principals. He teaches several animal-training workshops each year and is an instructor at the AZA Animal Training School, an instructor at the Recon – Elephant training workshop, a Trustee with the  World Parrot Trust, and a member of the AZA Behavior Advisory Group. He is also President of Natural Encounters Conservation Fund, Inc. a non-profit company that has raised and donated over $1.3 million to in situ 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.

2023 CONFERENCE SPEAKERS (in order of presentation)

Download the full descriptions of presentations and speaker bios here: 2023 Speakers and Workshops


KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Dr. Mark Penning 

Beyond Broken Birds: An examination of North American raptor center culture and its impact
Sidney Campbell, CPBT-KA, Senior Trainer and Educator, Cascades Raptor Center

A Shift in Behavior
Sandra Davey, Coordinator, Animal Care and Programs, Conservation Halton 

Tablet-Based Communication Board and Subsequent Choice and Behavioral Correspondences in a Goffin’s Cockatoo
Jennifer Cunha, J.D., Parrot Kindergarten, Inc. 

Shaping Mindfulness: A Behavioral Superpower that Enhances Communication & Welfare
Meg Meyer, Senior Trainer, Natural Encounters, Inc. 

Hawkeye: Using Free Flight to Improve the Welfare of Visually Impaired Raptors
Amy VanLew, General Curator (Presenter) & Joshua Kuszmaul, Executive Director, Raptor Hallow Sanctuary 

Jessica Torres, Nature’s Vein Wildlife Rescue and Education 

Training to Save Wild Macaws through Connections
Amber Smith, Animal Care Associate, ZooTampa at Lowry Park 

IATCB – History and the Certification Process
Sid Price, Avian Ambassadors, IATCB President 

Incorporating Comedy in Animal Ambassador Shows: A Trainer’s Approach
Balinda Strosnider, PhD and John Glitsos 

Control; How to Give it and How to Give it Up
Steve Martin, President/CEO, Natural Encounters, Inc. 


FEATURED SPEAKER: Keith Morris (one hour presentation) “Collaborative Communication”

Native Species as Ambassadors; What message do we want to share?
Nicky Plaskitt CPBT – KA, Shaping Behaviour 

Raised by Konrad Lorenz: Re-Examining Our Understanding of Imprinting in Birds
Anna Morris, MS, CPBT-KA 

How the Science of Behavior Change Can Help You to Mitigate Compassion Fatigue
Jessica R. Ruiz, CPBT-KA, CIG, All Things Wild Rehab 

A Holistic Approach to Bird Care and Behavior
Cassie Malina, Awesome Animal Solutions 

The ‘Naked’ Truth: An Examination of Equipment Use with Raptors
Amy Fennell CPBT-KA, (Presenter) & Steve Martin, Natural Encounters, Inc. 

Overcoming Fear and the Superstition of Aggression: How Changing Human Perspectives Helped an Underused, “Difficult” Vulture Become a Star Ambassador
Kimberly Lundy, Lead Trainer & Educator, Ojai Raptor Center 

From Fly-offs to Freedom: Forrest the Eagle Owl’s Incredible Journey
Sara Mattison, Staff Biologist, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium  

FEATURED SPEAKER: Steve Martin (one hour presentation)