Daryl Hoffman — Houston Zoo —
Curator Large Mammals
Daryl joined the Elephant Managers Association in 1992 and served as a board member from 2000-2005 until he became Executive Director in 2005.
Daryl began his career at the Buffalo Zoo as a relief keeper and worked in every area but elephants because at the time he wasn’t that interested. Then one day his curator wanted him to learn to work with the elephants and “it did not take long for me to realize how magnificent elephants are and become completely enthralled in everything elephant.”
With over 26 years of experience working with elephants he says that the births of babies are his favorite and make for fondest memories because “everyone is different and just as amazing.”
Board of Directors
Vernon Presley — Fresno Chaffee Zoo
Curator of Elephants and Ungulates
When I was a child, our family would regularly visit zoos. I fell in love with the excitement of seeing a variety of animals from all over the world. When I started to learn about the passion that the staff had for their animals and about the incredible work that they do I decided that I needed to devote my career to this field and share that passion.
Vernon began his elephant career at the Toronto Zoo in 1996 with 7 female African elephants. He started his full time zoo keeping job in a different area of the zoo, but was transferred to the elephant team 4 months later. There was no looking back, “I consider it an honor to be able to work with these amazing animals and I am just as eager to learn about them as I did over 20 years ago.”
Vernon joined the EMA in 1998 and has been the chair of the training committee since 2002.
“My favorite part of this industry is the training that we do with our elephants. I find it amazing when a trainer and an elephant work together and create an incredible atmosphere of communication and trust. It’s a privilege to work with and care for these animals.”
Shawn Finnell- Oregon Zoo
Senior Elephant Keeper
Shawn Finnell has been working with wildlife for 15 years, 12 of which have been with elephants. He has worked with African and Asian elephants throughout various management styles. At the Wildlife Safari, located in Winston Oregon, he started his career working with three African elephants. Shawn has had the fortune to work with multiple breeding herds, bulls, and calves. Between the Oklahoma City Zoo and the Oregon Zoo, he has experience with two large exhibit and program expansions.
He is passionate about many aspects of elephant management including conservation, welfare, and training. Shawn believes the best thing about working with elephants is that we are all students. No matter how much we think we know, elephants always show us that we have more to learn.
Shawn became an EMA member in 2006. He is currently involved in the conservation, training & membership committees. He has had the privilege to organize multiple workshops at the annual conferences. “EMA is a great organization to see many approaches to elephant care. The EMA has been a tremendous resource; it’s the largest group of elephant professionals united to improving the lives of these amazing animals.”
Katie Alayan – Wildlife Safari
Elephant Department Supervisor
I always knew I wanted to work with animals, but I never knew how much working with animals, especially elephants, involves working with people. When I began working in the animal care field as a professional, I wanted to find the most knowledgeable teacher to learn from and for me, I found that person in the elephant manager at my facility. I started working with elephants because I was looking for a mentor.
The effort we put forth in forming relationships with elephants is equaled to that which is needed to form the relationships with our fellow caretakers.
In one of the first conversations I had with our elephant manager when I expressed interest in working for her full time, she wanted me to understand that working with the elephants was a privilege. She told me that she could teach me about training and husbandry, but that elephants need more than just those basic things. She sent me home to think about what it would mean to take on the level of responsibility that she and the elephants would expect from me. I came back the next day and I got to help brush off one of the elephants. Through our many conversations over the years, she frequently references back to a single word: caring.
Taking care of elephants is about caring, and while she always says she can’t teach people to care, her example has taught me what it means to be a true advocate for elephants. Outside of spending time with the elephants, seeing people who have that same level of passion and dedication to elephants is what I love most about our profession. Every day is a chance to learn from each other, whether human or elephant.
Mike McClure — The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore
General Curator/Elephant Manager
This year Mike marks his 20th year working with elephants and the 28th year of his professional zoo career. Having started his career working around the zoo in all the other animals areas he always found the elephants more interesting than any other species because of their intelligence and the opportunity to learn more about behavioral modification and conditioning. After spending a lot of time watching the elephant team in action he was given the chance to join the team.
Mike joined the EMA in 2004 and was elected to the Board in 2008 where he immediately got involved in the legislative, nominations and public relations/social media committees to which he still is involved with today. In 2013 he was elected EMA President and served until the term ended in 2015. Mike also has served on the ethics committee since 2014 and has been on the training committee since it’s inception.
For Mike “the favorite part of my job is getting to see people and elephants work together to learn and grow. Seeing an elephant or someone that I have trained being successful in their environment is the most rewarding thing I have ever experienced.”
Nick Newby – Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Assistant Curator/Elephant Manager
I was inspired to work with elephants from an early age. I still remember going to the San Diego and Los Angeles Zoo as a child and marveling at all the animals, but the elephants in particular. It was at that time that I had my “aha” moment and knew I wanted to work with animals.
My favorite part of my job is the relationships that I build every day. Whether it be with the elephants, the team or with our guests, the impact we make on others is why I think we in the zoo profession matter. The role of zoos in conservation is vital, and I think that animal care professionals help lead the charge. Giving people that “aha” moment that I had as a child as well as a take home message is what is going to inspire people to join the fight to save elephants and other animals all over the world.
The best memory I have as an animal care professional has to be baby elephants! Every time I see an elephant birth my life changes. The process of training the calves is the most fun I have ever had in my career. Seeing the learning that happens between both the elephant and the trainers is extremely rewarding. Herd dynamics evolve with calves as well. No time for rest when you have a calf playing, swimming, and antagonizing at any opportunity possible.
Tripp Gorman- Fort Worth Zoo
I joined the Elephant Managers Association in 2001, the same year as my first EMA conference, and the same year I started volunteering around elephants at the Greenville Zoo. From there I went to an internship at the Knoxville Zoo, then onto another internship at the Riverbanks Zoo.
I started my paid animal care profession at Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, Red unit in December of 2006. I was hired on as a horse and zebra groom, but quickly moved on to what I came there for. After a year of being an elephant groom, I became an elephant handler, and stayed with the company for six years. After traveling across the country multiple times, I decided it was time to leave the road, and start to settle down. My second elephant job started at the Nashville Zoo in September of 2012, where I started working with African elephants. After two years of being a keeper, I was promoted to elephant manager, and while it was a short stint, I enjoyed it, and learned a lot. Once the elephants left the Nashville Zoo, I was once again on the search for a job, and that is how I landed at the Fort Worth Zoo!
During my elephant career I’ve had the great opportunity to not only meet many wonderful elephants, but also a lot of great people. I’ve been given the chance to help in many different aspects of elephant care. I’d have to say my favorite part is working with calves, and also interacting with the public, whom I love to engage and inspire.
Cecil Jackson, Jr.-
Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden
Cecil Jackson, Jr. has dedicated his 41-year career at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden (CZBG) to maintaining the highest standards of care in captive elephant management, focusing on the welfare and safety of both the animals and his staff. He began his zoo career as a seasonal keeper, working in various areas of the Cincinnati Zoo including the Children’s Zoo, hoofstock, primate, and elephant departments. It wasn’t until 1983 that Cecil started down his path with elephants as a full-time keeper. After establishing himself as a dedicated elephant keeper, Cecil was promoted to the position of Head Elephant Keeper in April 2000, which entailed managing the five Asian elephants in the Zoo’s collection. Shortly thereafter, Cecil was appointed to Elephant Manager, which earned him the responsibility of overseeing the daily husbandry, enrichment, training, and other aspects of elephant care. Cecil is proud to follow in the footsteps of many dedicated CZBG professionals, including his father, an animal trainer at the Cincinnati Zoo for 50 years.
To further his knowledge of caring for elephants, Cecil became a member of the Elephant Managers Association in 1988 and he is currently a member of the Ethics Committee. Cecil has attended numerous EMA conferences (from 1988 until now), participated in the Principles of Elephant Management I & II courses, participated in the EMA Training workshop, and presented papers at EMA.
The last few years have seen a lot of change in elephant care and management, and Cecil as Elephant Manager has led his team and elephants through this change with great success. Significant achievements include: successful transition from free contact to protected contact, implementation of a formal operant conditioning program with three cows and one bull elephant, expansion of the elephants’ enrichment program, development of formal exercise programs for all elephants, and initialization of the Elephant Welfare Initiative to track and monitor changes in elephant well-being. Overall, Cecil has successfully led CZBG’s elephant program to meet and surpass evolving elephant management standards; his practical experience and historical perspective are highly valuable to the future of elephant management in zoos.
Cecil is proud of the progress his team and the elephant care community have made in recent years and looks forward to continuing to guide the field forward as part of EMA’s Board of Directors. Aside from his professional passions, Cecil is an avid bluegrass performer and enjoy spending time with his family on their 100 acres of land.