Behavior Scientific Advisory Group

The mission of the Behavior Scientific Advisory Group (Behavior SAG) is to promote positive welfare and science-based approaches to animal training, enrichment, and behavior-based husbandry programs. The Behavior SAG serves the AZA community of accredited institutions by supplying tools to support and enhance institutional programs, providing technical advice to meet the husbandry, social, and behavioral needs of animals, and promoting behavioral strategies which can be applied to the conservation of species.

It is overseen by the Animal Welfare Committee.

What We Do

  • Provide behavioral advice/input to the various AZA Animal Programs.
  • Provide information and guidance to enhance behavioral monitoring and record keeping techniques.
  • Use behavior science-based approaches to create robust training programs, provide expertise in animal training, and provide assistance to training programs as requested.
  • Increase innovation in enrichment programming and move industry focus from item-driven to behavior-driven enrichment programs.
  • Increase understanding in the field of how to use the animal's natural behaviors to guide husbandry programs and improve animal welfare.
  • Promote the increase of science-based behavior knowledge by developing research projects and providing tools to support and facilitate behavioral research in zoos.

Who We Are

The Behavior SAG is administered by a Steering Committee (SC) composed of a maximum of 15 members. There are four officer positions within the committee: Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer. 

Melissa Nelson Slater, Bronx Zoo

Kimberly Leser, Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden

Brenda Melton, Steinhart Aquarium

Heidi Hellmuth, Saint Louis Zoo

Tarah Cornelius, Houston Zoo
Heather Keenan, Zoo Miami
Darren Minier, Conservation Society of California, Oakland Zoo
Christine Montgomery, The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
Jason Wark, Lincoln Park Zoo
Jen DeGroot, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
Austin Leeds, Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Cathy Mingee, North Carolina Zoo
Stephanie Norton, Reid Park Zoo
Rebecca Young, Zoo Atlanta

Stephanie Allard, National Aquarium
Erika Bauer, Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park
Nicki Boyd, San Diego Zoo
Kathy Carlstead, Retired
Stephanie Chandler, Akron Zoological Park
Ellen Dreyer, Brevard Zoo
Katherine Leighty, Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Steve Martin, Natural Encounters, Inc.
Angela Miller, Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Lance Miller, Chicago Zoological Society – Brookfield Zoo
Beth Posta, The Toledo Zoo
David Powell, Saint Louis Zoo
Rachel Salant, Woodland Park Zoo

In addition to the Steering Committee, the Behavior SAG includes a general membership comprised of individuals serving on working groups to advance the goals of the SAG.

What We're Working On

Animal Training

Use behavior science-based information to provide AZA-accredited facilities with resources to create robust training programs.

Behavior-based Husbandry

Increase understanding in the field of how to use animal natural behaviors to guide husbandry programs and improve animal welfare.

Behavior Research

Provide tools to support and facilitate science-based behavior research in AZA-accredited facilities. 


Provide a robust communication platform for AZA-accredited facilities to ensure access to resources regarding all aspects of behavior-based animal care and research.


Work with AZA entities to develop and recommend standards that encourage a strong culture of behavior-based animal care for AZA-accredited facilities.

How to Get Involved

The Behavior SAG Steering Committee organizes open meetings for all individuals and proposes relevant sessions in conjunction with AZA’s annual conference and mid-year meeting.

The Behavior SAG has an Institutional Representative (IR) from every AZA Accredited facility.  The IR is the contact for Behavior SAG communications, able to vote in our election process, and has the opportunity to run for election to our steering committee.  

The Behavior SAG will announce opportunities to serve on the Steering Committee or General Membership. For more information about responsibilities, appointments and terms see the Behavior SAG Steering Committee and General Membership Positions Descriptions.

Join the Animal Behavior Open Forum on the AZA Network to stay connected with discussion threads, resources and announcements.

Questions about the Behavior SAG? Please contact Melissa Nelson Slater, Chair.

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