The History of Giraffe Training with Amy Phelps

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Episode - 38  September, 2023

Host: Barbara Heidenreich

Guest: Amy Phelps, Assistant Zoological Manager, Oakland Zoo

Amy Phelps is truly a pioneer in giraffe training. In this episode she shares the inspiring history of training giraffes. This is a rare opportunity to hear directly from someone who was there from the beginning, training behaviors for the very first time that have now become standard in the industry, such as training voluntary hoof care. You will get to hear the origin story of the firehose barrier so commonly used today, and its pros and cons. What is also significant is that Amy’s journey has progressed and continues to evolve. She shares exciting advances that have allowed her teams to expand far beyond a handful of behaviors. Amy also shares tactics to move past “doing things to giraffes while they stand there and tolerate it” and why this is so important to supporting assent-based training programs. This interview is packed with useful information for trainers of all species, not just giraffes. I am confident you will enjoy learning from Amy as much as I did.

Recommended Citation:

Heidenreich, B. (Producer/Writer). (2023, September 3). The History of Giraffe Training with Amy Phelps. [Audio Podcast] Animal Training Fundamentals with Barbara Heidenreich.

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Guest Bio: Amy Phelps

Amy Phelps has worked in the zoo field for 24 years, starting as entry level zookeeper and holding the positions of curator and Vice President of Animals.  Over the years, and across several zoological facilities, she and her colleagues have developed animal training programs that pioneered the Constructional Approach in zoos, and giving human and animal learners assent in the zoological environment which allows them to be active participants in their own care. Over the arc of her career, she has applied the Constructional Approach to build behavior for 20 species, 40 individual animals, and has mentored the careers of over 30 trainers.  She is considered a progressive pioneer in the zoological advancement of animal welfare and training. Amy is particularly known for expertise in giraffe and her work as a pioneer of giraffe training. .

Host Bio:

Barbara Heidenreich

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 onsite with over 90 facilities in 29 countries. She is an adjunct instructor at Texas A & M University. She has authored two books and contributed to four veterinary textbooks. She is a co-author of two Fear Free® Avian Certification Courses. Much of her work focuses on training exotic species to improve animal welfare. She operates the online education program This virtual learning program features award winning courses, tracks to guide professional development, verifiable badges to share and prove course completion, community, and more. 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 also serves on the Zoological Association of America Animal Training Committee. She has provided her expertise to conservation projects The Kakapo Recovery Program and The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. She has a Bachelor of Science in zoology and has begun the journey towards a Master of Science in applied behavior analysis. Her goal is to leave behind a legacy of kindness to animals by sharing her expertise.

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