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Thad Lacinak talks about the importance of zoos & aquariums and animal welfare

A couple of years ago, Thad was a guest on the podcast 'Roach Show' and it's now available on YouTube. 

It's well worth the listen! 

The link to the video is available here:

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Precision Behavior applauds AZA decision to phase-out elephant bullhooks, as announced today (21 Aug 2019) in the Washington Post.


See full press release and articles below.



press release


Precision Behavior Applauds AZA Decision to Phase-out Elephant Bullhooks


For further information:  

Contact Lisa Lauf/Sage Communications     

250-954-7433 or


Homosassa, Fla. (August 21, 2019) – International welfare and behavior consulting firm Precision Behavior expressed enthusiastic support for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) policy decision to phase out the use of bullhooks in its members’ elephant programs, as announced today in the Washington Post.


“Eliminating the use of aversives (experiences the animal seeks to avoid) in behavior management has been an organizational goal since our founding,” said Thad Lacinak, the company’s co-founder and partner. “With this decision, the AZA Board of Directors has taken a bold and significant step forward for the behavioral welfare of elephants in North American zoological facilities.” We applaud this action and encourage other zoological, veterinary and animal behavior professionals and organizations to show their support as well.”  


Elephant expert and Precision Behavior partner, Otto Fad stated, “This is a great day for elephants. In fact, this may be the single most important policy decision AZA has made with respect to elephant welfare. Eliminating bullhooks makes it possible for programs to fully commit to positive behavior management.”


To further support the AZA’s historic decision, Fad explained, “PB is offering our own publication, “Working Safely and Effectively with Elephants in Protected Contact,” to elephant program leaders who request it. Our 16-page document provides an extensive framework for Positive Reinforcement Training (PRT) and relationship-building.” 


The elephant bullhook issue stretches beyond AZA-accredited zoos in North America. “This is a global issue,” said Lacinak. “In response, we produced a documentary on elephant training, “Elephant Trainer in the Room,” highlighting elephant training methods around the world. To our great surprise, Amazon Prime is airing it for free. No doubt we are committed to this cause and are so encouraged to see AZA add a huge win for elephant welfare.”



Recently celebrating its 10th anniversary, Precision Behavior assists zoological programs for all taxa worldwide with implementation and enhancement of positive-reinforcement training (PRT) programs through wellness and behavior assessments, staff development and teaching, behavior workshops, leadership training and participation in zoological association meetings. Additionally, Precision Behavior has played a prominent role in the Next Generation Elephant Management (NextGEM) conferences in 2018 and the upcoming follow-up to be hosted by Zoo Tampa in May 2020. 

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Clicking on the images will take you to the articles for as long as the newspapers maintain the live links. 



Elephant Trainer in the RoomDocumentary

available on Amazon Prime


Homosassa, Fla., March 12, 2019 -- Vanguard Media and Precision Behavior are pleased to announce that Elephant Trainer in the Room is now available for viewing on Amazon Prime.  The one-hour documentary explains why the time has come for fear-based training techniques of bull hooks and tasers to stop and for trust-based positive training to be implemented worldwide.


Elephant Trainer in the Room, directed by Jeff Boucher and hosted by globally respected animal behaviorists Thad Lacinak and Angi Millwood-Lacinak, takes the viewer on a heart-wrenching-to-heartwarming journey inside the world of elephant training. Traveling from North America to Cambodia and Thailand, they visit facilities that employ the harmful practice of using bull hooks and others that alternatively use the enriching and healthy methods of applied positive reinforcement.


Film and TV stars Beverly D’Angelo and Carolyn Hennessy also appear in the film, advocating for training methods that address animal welfare through positive relationships, enrichment and trust.  Hennessy, producer and host of Animal Magnetism, a radio program featuring wildlife and domestic animal professionals, is featured throughout the documentary and sums up its positive elephant training message, “It’s just a brilliant way; it’s a humane way; it’s the right way; it’s the only way.”


As the zoological world expands its understanding and methods to advance animal welfare, the film draws on expertise from a variety of training professionals including Dr. Grey Stafford and clicker training pioneer, Karen Pryor. Otto Fad, and Jeff Andrews from Busch Gardens and Gary Priest from San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park share the ground-breaking roads they traveled from bull hook to protected contact. The result: calmer and more comfortable animals. Lacinak adds, “These techniques also have enabled their animals to receive crucial medical care without having to sedate them, which can cause massive trauma and stress to these gentle giants.” 


A leader in the zoological field for more than 40 years, Lacinak has helped zoo and aquarium animal care professionals around the world create progressive programs that enrich the lives of their animals and their caretakers. He explains, “Positive reinforcement works … with fish, whales, elephants and, yes, with people. While I commend the exceptional accreditation standards of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), I believe that a transition to only positive elephant training methods by every institution that cares for these animals is something that could and should change today.”


According to Millwood-Lacinak, “There are great stories of change for the better in elephant stewardship to be found all over the world. Even in Cambodia and Thailand — places where mahouts (elephant trainers) have used the bull hook for millennia — our crew found two programs that traded the bull hook for trust, and I’m sure our viewers will be amazed, as we were, by the results. A portion of the film proceeds will go to these two places: The Elephant Nature Park located outside of Chiang Mia, Thailand and the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center (under jurisdiction of the Forestry Administration) located outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia.”


With an urgent call for change, Millwood-Lacinak shares what viewers can do to help. “We encourage people to visit and support zoos and facilities that have chosen a higher ethical standard for elephants by eliminating bull hooks. Social media, emails, letters or a person-to-person handshake also are all great ways to reinforce these positive actions.”  


Elephant Trainer in the Room, available for free to anyone with an Amazon Prime subscription, also is available to/for rent or purchase. Visit Precision for more information.



press release

DECEMBER 5, 2015
Whale Riders Inspired Interest in the Ocean


Am I destined to be one of the last whale riders? It's a future I can scarcely comprehend. I worked for 35 years at SeaWorld as an animal trainer and retired in 2008 as the vice president and corporate curator of animal training for all of the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks. I have dedicated my life to improving animal welfare through positive interactions with humans.


Few people realize that many of the breakthroughs that allowed us to better understand animal behavior, and laid the foundation for the humane way we demand animals be treated today, came about thanks to a select band of marine mammal trainers working with killer whales and dolphins.


Even fewer know that many of these breakthroughs happened at SeaWorld. I dare say that many of the animal activists who protest SeaWorld today earned their awe of killer whales during a childhood visit to the park they now demonize.


As in every organization, there were growing pains. Mistakes did occur, especially in the early years when we knew little about the whales. But there isn't a zoo or aquarium in the world that doesn't have a history of improvement; we simply cannot know what we don't know until we learn it through experience. Every day, SeaWorld inspires people to appreciate our oceans and the creatures that live there. Every day, SeaWorld trainers work tirelessly to ensure the physical and mental health of the animals in their care, rescue animals in distress and share their love for them with the public.


I had an incredible history with my most beloved teacher — a killer whale named Ramu. He was the first orca that we entered the water with. In those days, every day was a lesson, and Ramu was the professor. Though at that time we didn't really understand the principles of operant conditioning the way we do now, we knew one thing: There was no way to dominate a four-ton whale. So we worked tirelessly to become a source of fun for him. We played with him, we swam with him, we gave him affection, and truly, we loved him.


Eventually, he became the whale with whom we performed the first human-whale ballet — a choreographed routine of elegant cooperative interactions between species.


And trust me, the only thing better than watching a person and whale swim in perfect synchronicity was being the person lucky enough to swim with the whale in perfect synchronicity. It was spectacular. It wasn't because of the acrobatics. It was due to the tangible relationship between man and whale — the close connection between man and an aquatic animal that commanded awe. He was magnificent and inspiring. You couldn't help but feel awestruck in the presence of such a gigantic, beautiful creature, even as he splashed a tidal wave of salt water over the crowds' heads.


It is whale riders who made the world fall in love with killer whales. By daring to join them in the water, we made discoveries that not only changed the way animal behaviorists, conservationists and researchers communicate with animals and interpret their behavior, but also transcended the scientific community to influence everything from our current parenting practices to the way ordinary animal lovers interact with their own pets.


Imagine what else these magnificent creatures might teach us — about whales, about the animal mind, and even about ourselves — if only we continue to get closer.


I am proud of the role I played in helping to inspire millions of people to take an interest in whales and their ocean brethren, and I'm optimistic that most people will eventually recognize that these organizations are in fact our best hope of preserving what little is left of the wild, and the amazing creatures that live there.


It is my sincerest hope for future trainers, for the public at large, for my grandchildren and for the whales themselves that a vocal minority of people with extremist views and a handful of politicians pandering for votes aren't successful in their attempts to further dupe a well-meaning, yet ill-informed public.


I pray that I am not one of the last of the whale riders.



The link below will remain live as long as it is posted on the Orlando Sentinel site:


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