Katie Bilzi, CPBT-KA
Katie grew up on the coast of North Carolina and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in biology, focusing on avian and marine biology. She has had the opportunity to teach marine science education and conservation in the Florida Keys, practice animal training, husbandry, and education at Sea World Orlando, and participate in various animal behavior research projects during her undergraduate and post graduate career. Katie came to the NEI team in the fall of 2011 and has since been part of show productions at the Dallas Zoo, Texas State Fair, Brookfield Zoo, and Flights of Wonder at a major Orlando-area theme park. Working with exotic animals is her true passion, and she is always looking to further her education to better the lives of these animals and improve the relationships between animal and trainer. On her free time, Katie enjoys traveling, scuba diving, birding, kayaking, and spending the day at the beach. Katie has been certified as a professional bird trainer (CPBT-KA) by the International Avian Trainers Certification Board and is a member of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators.
Monica was born and raised in Clintonville, Ohio. After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Cincinnati, Monica was given the opportunity to join Animal Encounters at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. This enabled her to get experience with a wide variety of animals. There she discovered the art of training via warthogs, a tortoise, and a sloth named Sid. Although she enjoyed her seasonal work with the Columbus Zoo she was thrilled to continue her career as a full-time trainer at NEI. Late February, 2014, Monica relocated to Florida to join the NEI team. Monica is a professional member of IAATE (International Association of Avian Trainers and Educations) and serves on the Enrichment Committee, a member of the World Parrot Trust, and is a wildlife conservation enthusiast.
Ranch Team Lead
Damian graduated from Florida Southern College with a pre-veterinary medicine degree. He then moved to Hawaii for an internship at Sea Life Park where he worked with the sea bird rehabilitation program. At the end of the internship he was offered a position working with the seabird rehab program and as a dolphin/sea lion trainer. After a few years in Hawaii, Damian moved to Florida with his fiancé Ashley Majtyka. While in Florida, Damian became a dog trainer. After a few years dog training Damian applied for a seasonal position with Natural Encounters inc. and was offered a positional the end of his seasonal term.
Nathan was born and raised in the Puget Sound region of Washington State. While he has held many jobs (dog trainer, waiter, stonemason, etc.), his career only really began while in college at the University of Washington. Here, Nathan studied applied animal behavior science as part of his psychology degree and was fortunate enough to work with Woodland Park Zoo in animal welfare and visitor perception studies zoo-wide as well as in primate psychological well-being at the Washington National Primate Research Center. These experiences would prove to shape his course through the current day.
After graduating, Nathan began conducting independent, experimental work for peer-reviewed publication on enrichment, captive animal behavior, and animal welfare at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. Later, Nathan interned and eventually accepted a keeper position at this same facility. He worked with mustelids and rodents primarily but also spent some time working in animal presentation with bats and birds of prey as well as with the large carnivores in the collection. Ever interested in behavior and learning, Nathan also worked as a domestic animal training consultant on the side and acted as a teacher’s assistant to Legacy Canine’s chicken training workshops. In an attempt to round out his experience and abilities Nathan sought new experiences which led to work in wildlife rehabilitation and, in the summer of 2015, Nathan joined the team at NEI.
When not working, Nathan enjoys traveling to conferences and attending workshops. Through these adventures, he has helped train wolves for work in future workshops, guinea pigs for gun powder detection, chickens for agility, and many other animals for various other tasks. He has also been lucky enough to visit nearly 50 AZA zoos in the last 3 years to learn more about how each manages daily operations, animal behavior and training, and education and conservation.
Ashley was raised in the south suburbs of Chicago, IL where she grew up visiting Brookfield Zoo and her passion for animals began. She graduated from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois in 2011 with a Bachelors in Animal Science Production. She began her career at Brookfield Zoo in 2008 as a Seasonal Zoo Keeper in the Children’s Zoo and Australia House. Most of her time at Brookfield was spent educating guests about animal conservation through keeper chats and animal presentations. She’s had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of species including marsupials, ratites, large hoof stock, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Ashley joined the NEI team in April 2015 as a seasonal for the Festival of Flight show at Brookfield Zoo. She was then hired on full time in October 2015 and currently works at the Ranch. She is excited to be a new member of the NEI family and is looking forward to furthering her education, gaining knowledge of training and bird behavior.
Ashley’s favorite animal is the Nile Hippopotamus and she enjoys collecting all things hippo related. In her free time, she enjoys exploring the Orlando area, crafting and quilting.
Zach grew up in Dallas, Texas. There he began working at an exotic ranch working with hoof-stock that included dromedary camels, plains zebra and Watusi. He graduated from Santa Fe College in Gainesville, FL and immediately joined the team at NEI in August 2011. Zach enjoyed working at the NEI ranch getting hands on experience and training opportunities with a wide variety of birds. In 2013 Zach moved to south Florida and worked at Zoo Miami. He worked with reptiles and amphibians & took care of the meerkat collection. After moving back up to Central Florida, Zach was pleased to rejoin the NEI team in 2015.
Katelyn was born and raised in Wooster, Ohio. After graduating from The Ohio State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Wildlife Science, Katelyn began an internship at the Akron Zoo. This internship allowed her to gain experience with the wide variety of animals in their education collection through daily enrichment and training. Following her time at the Akron Zoo, Katelyn relocated to Pittsburgh, PA, and began working as a show intern at the National Aviary. During this internship, she discovered her passion to work with birds while getting hands on experience in the production of their bird show.
In March of 2014, Katelyn relocated to Florida after accepting a seasonal position at NEI. And in August of 2014, she was thrilled to join the NEI team as full time trainer and looks forward to furthering her knowledge in animal behavior and training.
Born and raised in the great white North, Megan is yet another Canadian to make it into the NEI team and escape the snow and cold winters. Megan grew up on a small hobby farm in London, Ontario. With a passion for animals starting at a young age, she was lucky enough to care for a variety of barnyard species, and was occassionally found doing bird shows with her “eagle” (aka chicken) perched on her arm. In high school she volunteered at Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Centre, where she was surprised to discover a passion and fascination for birds. Further continuing her education, she majored in Zoology at the University of Guelph, where she joined the school’s Wildlife Club and even travelled to Vietnam to study Entomology. While still in school, Megan additionally worked for African Lion Safari, in the bird department for 3 years. Here, she found a passion for inspiring the public about environmental education and conservation through the daily shows and encounters. Megan was hired by NEI in December of 2014 and cannot wait to see what the future holds for her!
In her free time Megan can be found outside looking for bugs, curled up on the couch watching YouTube or chatting to random strangers about life. She currently has no pets, but hopes to one day own both a ferret and sphynx cat.
Lauren was born and raised right here in central Florida. She’d always hoped of working with animals, but was unsure of where to start. So while attending Polk State College, she not only worked at a local veterinary hospital as a vet tech, she also worked as a barn hand at a facility that housed anywhere from 10-20 horses on a daily basis. Through both facilities she gained a hands-on education in medicine and large animal handling. After a year, she realized the medical side of animal care, though interesting, was not the perfect fit she was looking for.
From there she enrolled in the zoo program at Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo in Gainesville. There she learned everything from general maintenance of enclosures to the advanced biology of the animals she cared for on daily basis. While at the teaching zoo, Lauren found her true passion in birds. She also got SCUBA certified via IANTD and volunteered at the Jacksonville Zoo.
In 2012, a friend brought Lauren to NEI one night to watch her feed several baby macaws she was helping to raise. It was at that exact moment that Lauren fell in love with those goofy little things and immediately applied to NEI. She was hired a month and half later. Since then she has helped raise well over 100 baby birds, including macaws, turacos, ground hornbills, cranes, owls, and falcons. She’s not just been raising babies, she been training and doing her daily duties at NEI since 2012. Needless to say, she found that perfect fit she’d been looking for at NEI.
Lucy was born in Denver, PA where she grew up with her parents and numerous pets. She began riding horses at the age of 5 and developed a love for them and other animals. Lucy has known since she was young that she wanted to have a career in an animal field. She attended Juniata College and received a degree in Zoology. Throughout college she worked at ZooAmerica as a zoo educator where she developed a passion for animal care and conservation. After graduating, Lucy was accepted into an internship program at Disney’s Animal Kingdom where she educated guests about animals as a Wilderness Explorer. Lucy started working in a seasonal position with NEI in January 2015, and was hired on full time later that year. In her spare time Lucy can be found reading, attending Orlando City soccer games, and dreaming about one day owning a greyhound in a sweater.
Adam was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, where he discovered his passion for wildlife and the outdoors at a very young age. He spent countless summer breaks at his grandparents’ country house in rural Sullivan, Missouri. Adam and his older brother spent most of this time at the nearby creek catching and studying whatever they could get their hands on.
When Adam went away to Southeast Missouri State University, he had a clear path laid out. He majored in both Wildlife Conservation Biology and Criminal Justice, with an emphasis in Law Enforcement to fulfill his dream of becoming a conservation agent. Adam accepted a college internship at the World Bird Sanctuary in 2011. His hard work and enthusiasm paid off, as his heart led him in a new direction and he accepted a full time position after graduation.
For the next two years Adam worked at the Raptor Hospital & Rehabilitation Center, led songbird reproduction research, assisted with educational programs, banded wild Peregrine Falcons, and trained Bald Eagles, among other things. In 2013 Adam was thrilled to be promoted to Manager of Propagation, Education training, and Eagle Flight Programs at WBS.
Adam’s new career aspiration was to work with the best of the best in the avian training world, at Natural Encounters Incorporated. When he was offered a seasonal position with NEI, Adam and his fiancée Desiree packed up their house, grabbed their dogs Duke and Daphne, and hit the road for Central Florida.
In his free time, Adam enjoys goofing off with his now-wife and their pups, bass fishing, rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals, and spending time outdoors.
Scott was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. He received his Associates of Arts from the University of North Florida with a focus in Nursing, but chose to relocate to the University of South Florida in Tampa to specialize in Television Production. It was there, in 2006, that he got a job at Busch Gardens Tampa that would set his animal based career path in motion. Choosing to expand his taxonomic prowess, he joined the SeaWorld Education Team in 2008 and became their Animal Ambassador Team Leader working with a variety of species, but primarily Magellanic penguins. In 2011, to move closer to family, he chose to accept a position on the Animal Ambassador Team at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. During this time, countless species were trained from simple husbandry behaviors to complex show behaviors used in free-flight shows, including the multi-award winning Macaw Flyover. In September of 2014, to further challenge his passion for training, he shifted over to the African Hoofstock team in the zoo and was the Training Lead for the department. In November of 2015, Scott joined the NEI team. He has worked at both the NEI Ranch, and a free-flight show in Orlando at a large animal based theme park. He knows great things are always on the horizon for NEI!
Scott is a very active member of the Animal Behavior Management Alliance (ABMA), and currently serves as both the Honors and Awards Co-Chair and the 1st Vice President of the Executive Board. He has presented at conferences and he won the Behavior Management Innovation Award at the 2013 Toronto conference for his presentation about the Macaw Flyover project in Tampa. He has published articles in both ABMA and AAZK magazines.