Meet our Leadership

Executive Director

The Executive Director is appointed by the Board of Directors on an as-needed basis.


Daryl Hoffman, Executive Director
Houston Zoo, Curator of 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 except for elephants because at the time he wasn't that interested. Then one day his curator wanted him to learn to wotk with the elephants and it did not take long for him to realize how magnificent elephants are and to become completely enthralled with everything elephant.

With over 26 years of experience working with elephants, he says that the births of babies are his favorite and make for the fondest memories because every single one is different and just as amazing.


Board of Directors

Members of the Board of Directors are popularly elected by the EMA membership, and each member serves a two-year term. Board officers are elected by the Board of Directors at their annual end-of-the-year meeting.


Vernon Presley, President
Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Curator of Elephants and Ungulates

When Vernon was a child, his family would regularly visit zoos. He fell in love with the excitement of seeing a variety of animals from all over the world. When Vernon started to learn about the passion that the staff had for their animals and about the incredible work that they do, he decided that he needed to devote his career to this field and share that passion.

Vernon began his elephant career at the Toronto Zoo in 1996 with seven 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 four 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 is the former chair of the Training Committee. "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, Vice President

Shawn Finnell has been working with wildlife for 15 years, 12 of which have been with elephants. He was 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.

Shawn is passionate about many aspects of elephant management, including conservation, welfare, and training. He believes the best thing about working with elephants is that all elephant keepers, handlers, and trainers are 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 EMA 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."




Tripp Gorman, Secretary
Fort Worth Zoo, Elephant Keeper

Tripp joined the EMA in 2001, the same year as his first EMA conference and the same year that he started volunteering around elephants at the Greenville Zoo. From there, Tripp went on to an internship at the Knoxville Zoo, and then onto another internship at the Riverbanks Zoo.

Tripp started his paid animal care career at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (the Red Unit) in December 2006. He was hired on as a horse and zebra groom, but quickly moved on to what he joined for. After a year of being an elephant groom, Tripp became an elephant handler and stayed with the company for six years. After traveling across the country multiple times, he decided it was time to leave the road and start to settle down. Tripp's second job started at the Nashville Zoo in September 2012, where he started working with African elephants. After two years of being a keeper in Nashville, he was promoted to Elephant Manager, and even though it was a short stint, Tripp enjoyed it and learned a lot. Once the elephants left the Nashville Zoo, Tripp was once again on the search for a job and that is how he landed at the Fort Worth Zoo!

During his elephant career, Tripp has had the enjoyable opportunity to not only meet many wonderful elephants, but also a lot of great people. He has been given the chance to help in many different aspects of elephant care. When asked about his favorite part of the job, Tripp responds, "Working with calves, and also interacting with the public, who I love to engage and inspire."




Rob Conachie
Pairi Daiza, Elephant Manager

Rob's passion for elephants was obvious from a young age. He was fortunate enough to spend his childhood around the elephants at Cricket St Thomas Wild Animal Park in the UK. Rob's desire to develop a career with elephants has given him fantastic opportunities to work within multiple collections across Europe and the USA.

The management, care, and welfare of elephants has been Rob's primary emphasis throughout his career. He takes pride in focusing on the training of both staff and animals, as this allows us to care for elephants safely and to the highest possible standard. As one of his mentors always said: "our standard of work is their standard of care."

Working with both African and Asian elephants in all management systems over the past twenty years has taught Rob that the daily challenges we face can be overcome by using many different techniques to achieve the same goal.

Rob firmly believes in the role of modern zoological collections and the need for conservation, education, and research. The sharing of knowledge and working together will be essential in overcoming threats such as EEHV, and also in protecting the future of our industry to which so many of us have dedicated our lives.




Adam Felts
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Curator of Heart of Africa and Asia Quest

Adam has been working at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium since 1997. He began his full-time career as a pachyderm keeper working with both African and Asian elephants (in restricted and unrestricted settings). Between 2008 and 2013, Adam was promoted to Head Keeper and then to Assistant Curator of Asia Quest/Pachyderms, assisting in managing the region's collection, such as elephants, rhinos, sun bears, tigers, lions, ungulates, birds, and flying foxes. Adam played a vital role as Keeper/Head Keeper and Assistant Curator, managing elephant care professionals' training, elephant husbandry, elephant exercise programs, and the training of the elephants. During his time with the elephans, Adam has participated extensively in transitioning several bull elephants to restricted management, managing two successful births and the training of these two calves, among all the other things related to the care of the elephants.

During the beginning of Adam's career, he was a major contributor to the creation of the International Rhino Keeper Association. At its inception, Adam was elected President and enjoyed organizing and planning the Biennial Rhino Keeper Workshops and other vital professional development opportunities for rhino keepers throughout the world, demonstrating his ability to collaborate with other professionals throughout the zoo community.

In 2013, Adam was promoted to the position of Assistant Curator of the new Heart of Africa region. After months of collaboration, planning, designing, and construction, he and his staff enjoyed the huge success of the new Heart of Africa.

With the immense success of the Heart of Africa and his persistence in excellence, Adam was promoted to Curator of the Heart of Africa and Asia Quest regions in late 2015. Since returning to the elephants, over the last year his team was able to successfully organize and participate in the first elephant artificial insemination at the Columbus Zoo, a multitude of enhancements of the elephant program facility, and an increased involvement in the elephant community. Adam's goals are to be given the opportunity to collaborate with other elephant care managers to continue exceptional care of elephants in human management (his professional passion). As a board member of the EMA and with his 17 years' experience, Adam hopes to collaborate with other likeminded people in the elephant profession to have a positive impact on all elephants in zoological organizations.




Cecil Jackson, Jr.
Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Elephant Manager

Cecil 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 CZBG, 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 EMA in 1988 and he is currently a member of the Ethics Committee. Cecil has attended numberous EMA conferences since 1988, 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 chance 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 the initiation 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 program 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 enjoys spending time with his family on their 100 acres of land.




Mike McClure
The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, General Curator/Elephant Manager

Mike has been working with elephants for 20 years and in the zoo field for 30 years. Having started his career working around the zoo in all other animal areas, Mike always found the elephants more interesting than any other species because of their intelligence and because of the opportunity to learn more about behavioral modification and conditioning. After spending a lot of time watching the elephant team in action, Mike was given the chance to join the team.

Mike joined the EMA in 2004 and was elected to the Board of Directors in 2008, where he immediately got involved in the Legislative, Nominations, and Communications Committees, with which he is still involved today. In 2013, he was elected EMA President and served until his term ended in 2015. Mike has also served on the Ethics Committee since 2014 and has been on the Training Committee since its inception.

For Mike, his favorite part of the 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."


Executive Committee

Members of the Executive Committee are appointed on an as-needed basis by the Executive Director and the Board of Directors. Executive Committee members are past EMA Board members and help to guide the mission-focused actions of the organization.


Bryan Amaral
Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, Senior Curator

Bryan is currently Senior Curator at Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. He has been in the animal/elephant industry since 1996, working at three different elephant-holding organizations. Bryan has been a member of the EMA since 2000, was involved in the Membership Committee from 2004−2017, and served multiple terms on the EMA Board of Directors. The value of the EMA is immeasurable. For Bryan, it has been a pleasure to be involved with the organization and its value to his career is great. The knowledge gained and contacts made over the years has greatly improved the lives of the elephants he has cared for, the elephant professionals he supports, and has helped the elephant industry as a whole grow as well. Bryan was appointed to the Executive Committee in 2017, and he is proud to continue to serve the EMA and support the Board of Directors. The EMA is an important organization and Bryan is delighted to help continue the great work of our organization and improve the lives of elephants everywhere.




Jill Sampson
Indianapolis Zoo, Elephant Manager

Jill is the Elephant Manager at the Indianapolis Zoo, where she has been working since 1996. Highlights of her career include the births of six calves to date−including the first and second African elephant calves in the world born through artificial insemination−and the development of a multigenerational breeding herd. Over the years, Jill has served the EMA in various roles including Membership Chair, Publications Editor, Board Member, and President. She is grateful for the people she has met and worked alongside, and the opportunity the EMA provides to network and exchange ideas, all with the common goal of providing the very best care for the elephants we love. Jill is honored to have been appointed to the Executive Committee in 2018, and she looks forward to working with the Board of Directors and continuing to learn from and share knowledge with the membership.




Jessica Scallan
Tulsa Zoo, Elephant Manager

Jessica is Elephant Manager at the Tulsa Zoo. She has dedicated over 20 years to our industry, specializing in geriatric care and bull management. Anyone who is an EMA member or has attended an EMA conference knows Jessica. Her positive, upbeat attitude is contagious. Jessica has served EMA in several capacities over the years. She was elected by her peers to the EMA Board of Directors five times starting in 2005, where she served ten years including two as President and six as Secretary. During these years she has focused her time on the Education, Enrichment, Communications, and Awards Committees; she was the previous JEMA Art Director; led strategic planning for our organization; organizes our annual conference; and writes press releases when needed. In October 2017, Jessica was appointed to the Executive Committee by the Board of Directors. "I am so grateful for EMA. I have learned so much and have made lifelong friends from around the globe. EMA has allowed me to develop many skills in various leadership roles. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve on the Executive Committee. I believe in our mission and I am honored to assist in the organization's growth."


To get in touch with the EMA leadership team, please contact:

EMAboard@elephantmanagers.com


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