On February 17 to 20, 2016 the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators annual conference will take place. Since the beginning of the organization, IAATE has facilitated the exchange of information through a 4-day conference held in February. This year will mark the 24th annual conference. Today, the conference has grown to be one of the most important structured gatherings available to animal trainers with a special interest in avian species.
Robin Shewokis, president of IAATE, said she has been a member as long as she can remember. “I guess that speaks to the fact that either newbie or seasoned veteran, the experience with IAATE is always great,” she said.
Shewokis owns an enrichment company that works with all species but specializes in birds. She consults with bird owners and professional caretakers such as zookeepers.
Shewokis initially joined IAATE because she had heard it was a great organization for meeting like-minded people and a wonderful place to increase her knowledge of avian training and care.
This year the annual conference will be held in a location rich in wildlife and natural beauty: Montana. Yes, Montana in February. But don’t worry, to get your mind off of the cold and blowing snow, the board of directors has decided to have an icebreaker like no other: an indoor pool party. The Big Horn Resort’s” “Reef,” an indoor water park, is reserved for conference attendees only.
“I can’t think of another group of professionals who would appreciate such a location any more than our members,” Shewokis said. “ZooMontana has worked with our board members to bring you what promises to be a fantastic conference.”
Jeff Ewelt, director of ZooMontana, has been an IAATE member for 16 years.
“IAATE was a great way for me to learn all I could about avian training and interpretation,” Ewelt said. “As a young trainer, this was extremely valuable information.”
Add to that the incredible networking opportunities and IAATE was an asset to his career. He adds that it was always an easy group to be a part of, welcoming him and others with open arms.
Ewelt renews his membership because of the resources IAATE provides. “I love giving back to young trainers, helping them as I was helped when I started my career. It’s a full circle for me.”
“We are a young zoo in a complete rebuilding phase,” Ewelt explained, when asked why he volunteered to host the conference. “We felt we had an opportunity at ZooMontana to help inspire the membership through our story. We are very much like starting a new show, or beginning with a new bird, only we’re creating a new Zoo. We felt there are a lot of similarities between the two that can hit home to a lot of members.”
Troy Paisley, education director of ZooMontana, and Ewelt both love interpretation, which should place this conference on any bird educator/rehabber’s 2016 bucket list.
“We take pride in being able to tell stories that inspire and motivate people to seek out and fulfill their passions,” Ewelt said. “The story of ZooMontana will coincide very well with the mindset of the educators and rehabbers of the IAATE membership, helping them to leave Montana infused with inspiration.”
Ewelt said that bird owners should consider attending the conference as well. “The wealth of knowledge that will be at the conference is mind blowing,” he explained.
“Anyone working in the avian community should consider attending the conference,” Shewokis added. “People doing education and rehabilitation are often on the front lines with exposing the general public to the wonder that we get to see on a regular basis.”
I have been a member of IAATE for six years and this will be my fourth conference. The conference offers networking and educational opportunities through a wide variety of perspectives. This helps strengthen bird educators and trainers ability to spread the word about birds and perhaps in the process spark the next conservation project or nurture a buddying ornithologist. This year’s conference theme is “Let Your Passion Soar.”
“The conference gives all attendees the opportunity to benefit from the experiences of other bird people,”Shewokis said. “Bird owners have the responsibility to provide the birds in their homes with the highest level of care possible. By attending a professional conference a bird owner can get ideas to expand their birds’ world at home.”
Papers, workshops, late (late) nights in the hospitality suite and a trip to the zoo all present innovative ideas in avian care and conservation. Raffles, awards, grants and a photo contest will also take place during the conference.
Registration is now open and an early bird discount ends January 1. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Charles R. Preston an ecologist, raptor biologist, and widely published authority on wildlife and human-wildlife relationships in Greater Yellowstone. He is also the Willis McDonald, IV senior curator of Natural Science and founding curator-in-charge of the Draper Natural History Museum and its Draper Museum Raptor Experience
“I continue to learn and grow my base of knowledge in avian training and enrichment with every IAATE interaction,” Shewokis said. “I’m still a member because my original expectations of the organization were met and surpassed. The conference plus the resources available to me as a member make renewing my membership a priority every year.”
Ewelt is excited to welcome in the best avian trainers of the world to Montana. “We encourage attendees to take some time for themselves to experience Montana,” he said. “Whether it be Yellowstone, skiing, a sleepy mountain town or one of the many hot springs, adventure certainly awaits.”
Hope to see you in Montana!