Active Environment’s Team

Gail Laule

Gail received her Masters degree in Behavioral Science from California State University, Dominquez Hills. She has been interested in animal welfare since beginning her career at Marineland in California in 1979, where she helped pioneer the use of training techniques to gain the voluntary cooperation of marine mammals in husbandry and medical procedures. In 1985, Gail and her partner, Tim Desmond, formed Active Environments to provide consulting services to enhance the care and welfare of captive animals. They developed innovative techniques to achieve this goal including: protected contact, a positive reinforcement-based system for managing elephants; cooperative feeding, a technique for enhancing positive social interaction in groups of animals; and behavioral management, an integrated systems approach to optimal care for captive species.

For the past 14 years, Gail has worked full-time as a consultant internationally, helping zoos, biomedical facilities, and sanctuaries develop behavioral management programs to improve captive animal care and well-being. Gail has been an invited speaker at numerous conferences and meetings including: Salk Institute, National Research Council, American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, American and Canadian Associations of Laboratory Animal Science, Scientists Center for Animal Welfare, American Veterinary Medical Association, American International Societies of Primatologists, and the Animal Behavior Society. Gail is also president of Wildlife in Need, a US-based non-profit and sister organization to AE, that is currently engaged in conservation and animal welfare projects in the Philippines.

Margaret A. Whittaker

Margaret began her career in 1986 as a zookeeper at the Houston Zoo specializing in primates, elephants, and pinnipeds. Behavioral management, conservation of endangered species, and animal welfare have been central themes throughout her career. As supervisor of large mammals and elephant manager, she coordinated the first protected contact elephant program that consisted of a breeding group of Asian elephants, including a calf born into, and fully trained in, protected contact. Margaret has been a consultant for Active Environments since 1996, assisting zoological, biomedical, and sanctuary facilities in the improvement of animal care and welfare. She has consulted in facilities throughout North America, Mexico, South America, Southeast Asia, and Europe. She worked extensively with M. D. Anderson Cancer Center’s Veterinary Science Park helping to expand the behavioral management program for their colony of 150 chimpanzees. Margaret is the studbook keeper and population manager for Diana monkeys, and is actively involved in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Old World Monkey Taxon Advisory Group as the behavioral advisor.

She has been an invited speaker at the American and Canadian Associations of Laboratory Animal Science, American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, American and International Societies of Primatologists, Laboratory Animal Managers Association, American Society of Laboratory Animal Practitioners, Regional Aquatics Workshop, American Federation of Aviculturists, American Association of Zoo Keepers, Congresso de Sociedade de Zoologicos de Brasil, Encontro Internacional de Zoologicos Brazil, and Unity Approaching Sustainable Management.

Susan Benedon

Susan has worked with animals in zoological facilities, film and commercial work, and shelter and rescue settings; she has always focused on animal training and welfare. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Science from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Susan’s commitment to an animal career began while she was still in high school, managing a Children’s Zoo where she raised and trained a variety of exotic animals for conservation education programs. In California, she worked as an animal trainer at the Los Angeles Zoo in a show called “Wild in the City” with a variety of species including birds of prey, raccoon, fox, and mountain lion. She also participated in training projects around the zoo, including training endangered drill baboons for artificial insemination. After leaving the Zoo, Susan continued her work with animals in a company that provides trained animals for the film industry. As one of their top trainers, Susan’s credits include: “Friends”, “Mousehunt”, “Legally Blonde”, “Memoirs of a Geisha”, “Million Dollar Baby”, “Deja Vu”, and “Evan Almighty”.

Her national and international commercial work includes: Purina, Iams, Pedigree, and a series of Post-It Note commercials with squirrels. As an Active Environments consultant, Susan brings vast expertise with domestic animals, especially dogs, and a broad base of experience in presentation and show development with birds and mammals. Her devotion to animal welfare is consistent with Active Environment’s philosophy and approach to captive animal care and management. Susan volunteers her time and resources for dog and pig rescues. In fact, 95% of all the animals she has owned or trained have been rescued from shelters.

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