Felid Education & Interpretation

Girl and tiger

Photo: Connie Lemperle

Education and interpretation are critical components of felid conservation. If people are unaware of or don’t care about conservation issues and the impact their actions have, all the legislation, research, captive breeding, reintroduction, and habitat protection happening around the world will have little chance of being sustained for future generations. In the end, saving wild cats comes down to the values that people place on wildlife and wild places. These values develop and change over time as we gain knowledge, collect varied perspectives, share experiences with role models, and make strong emotional connections to the natural world. Zoos are living classrooms where people experience and emotionally connect with wildlife. Zoos provide an ideal learning environment for families and children to gain an appreciation and understanding of the importance of predators and their role in nature.

Felid Education Advisors

Felid TAG places a high priority on the role education plays alongside conservation, science and husbandry in saving wild cats. Education Advisors play a critical role in and serve as consultants within the TAG’s felid programs for topics and issues related to conservation education, community outreach, and public awareness and assist with the design and execution of conservation and management goals.

Click here to view the program advisors and their contact information.

Felid TAG would like to introduce our new Education Advisors: Elise Bernardoni and Stacey Panteck. They look forward to working with us on the Felid TAG Times and education programs and initiatives. They are taking over for Shasta Bray, who has served the Felid TAG so well for many years. Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication Shasta!


Elise has been with Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ), the non-profit support organization of Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, since 2006 where she started as an intern. In her time at the Zoo she has facilitated school programs and teacher trainings, developed educational activities for national audiences, sat on exhibit design teams, written and performed in plays, participated in numerous strategic planning processes for FONZ, NZP, and the Smithsonian, and built strategic partnerships with local and national organizations. Today Elise manages a department that runs year-round day camps, early education and home school programs, on-site school programs and school outreach, birthday parties, summer-time overnights, adult courses, and a teen volunteer program. Her "small but mighty" team includes six full time educators, 50 hourly and contract educators, and 90 teen volunteers. Elise is also a co-founder and administrator of an internal grant program, which distributes about $100,000 annually to keepers and scientists at NZP/SCBI. To date she and the grant team have distributed $425,000 to 55 science and conservation programs at the National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

Elise adores being part of the global zoo community and is active both in AZA and in her local AAZK chapter, having served four years as the chapter president from 2013 - 2017. Elise is an AZA Professional Development Course Instructor in Conservation Education: Effective Program Design.

Elise received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama from Carnegie Mellon University in 2001 and a Masters of Arts in Teaching: Museum Education from the George Washington University in 2006. When not involved in all things zoo, Elise and her partner Tra love traveling and being outdoors, visiting museums, going to concerts, and their two cats.

Elise Bernardoni
Assistant Director, Education Programs
Friends of the National Zoo


As a former classroom teacher in both Cleveland and Chicago, Stacey joined Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in 2012 to develop early childhood programming in conjunction with the national PNC "Grow up Great" campaign.  After successfully growing early childhood programs for students, families and teachers, she moved on to a new role with the Zoo in 2015.  Currently Stacey manages the Zoo's camps and school programs where she continues to develop new content, writes curriculum, leads professional development sessions, and coordinates field experiences for visiting school groups. The biggest and most time consuming part of her job is managing 19 seasonal Summer Day Camp staff, and welcoming over 1,000 campers ages 5-14 during a busy 10 weeks of Zoo Camp, June-August.  Stacey serves as the lead education representative on the Zoo's "Future for Wildlife" Lion/Cheetah conservation team where she works with staff, volunteers and field partners to generate messaging and activities to engage Zoo guests and the public in conservation efforts. She also serves as an advisor to the board of the Cleveland Regional Council of Science Teachers.

A RedHawk through and through, Stacey received a Bachelor of Science in Education from Miami University in 2005 and a Master of Arts in Teaching: Biological Science, also from Miami in 2013.  Following her continued desire for learning, Stacey traveled to Africa to complete additional graduate coursework on great cat conservation at Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia in 2017.  In her free time you can find her on the sidelines cheering for her favorite football and hockey teams, and spending time with her senior dog/best friend Lola.  Despite her self-proclaimed "love/hate" relationship with running, she's an avid (but slow) marathoner training for her 5th in New York City this fall.  Stacey enjoys traveling to places old and new, and is always looking for her next adventure.

Stacey Panteck
Education Specialist
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

All About Felids

The Felid TAG manages conservation programs for 18 felid species. Learn more about each cat and its program.

Felid TAG Programs Poster
Click thumbnail to view poster.

Key Educational Messages

The Felid Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) recommends the following key messages for AZA member institutions to use in their educational efforts relating to wild cats.

Click here to view the Felid TAG Key Educational Messages PDF document.

Click here to view the Messaging Strategies for North American Felids PDF document.

Program Animal Statement

Trainer asks an ocelot to show off its climbing skills
A professional trainer with the Cincinnati
Zoo’s Cat Ambassador Program asks an
ocelot to show off its climbing skills during
an assembly program.

The focus on the guest experience at AZA accredited zoos and aquariums has increased dramatically in recent years and program animals play an integral role in these activities. The interest in using felids as program animals has also increased during that time and the Felid Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) has developed this position statement to assist institutions that are considering initiating such a program or already have one in place. This statement is intended to complement the AZA Program Animal Guidelines and the position statements of individual felid programs.

Click here to view the AZA Program Animal Guidelines PDF document.

How to Build a Good Cat Ambassador

So you’ve read the Felid TAG Program Animal Statement and have decided that your institution wants to begin using exotic cats as ambassador animals. What does it take to build a successful cat ambassador? Coordinator and Lead Trainer of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Cat Ambassador Program, Linda Castenada, provides some great guidelines to get you started.

Click here to view the How to Build a Good Cat Ambassador document.

Wild Cats Do Not Make Appropriate Pets

Tiger and tree
Imagine what this tiger’s claws could
do to your furniture! (Photo: Ron Tilson) 

Baby tigers, lions and ocelots are fluffy and adorable, but even when raised in captivity, they are still wild animals and do not make good house pets. It’s not uncommon for those of us who work in the zoo field to have people tell us they want an exotic cat as a pet. How do you respond? Telena Walsh from Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium provides some good talking points in the attached article.

Click here to view the So You Want an Exotic Cat? document.

Domestic Cat
The only cat you should keep in your
home is a domestic housecat.
(Photo: Sergiu Bacioiu)

Domestic cats, on the other hand, can make great pets. They have been bred over thousands of generations to live with and rely on humans for care. Encourage cat enthusiasts to adopt a domestic cat from a local animal shelter, and to be a responsible cat owner by spaying or neutering the cat and providing it with a good indoor home.

How to Help Save Wild Cats

Snow Leopard and boy
Photo: Kathy Newton

How can the average person and general zoo visitor help save wild cats?

  • Visit AZA-accredited institutions; just by visiting, they are already supporting the research and conservation efforts carried out by that institution.
  • Support other organizations dedicated to wild cat conservation.
  • Protect wild cats and their habitats by making cat-friendly choices in their daily life:
    • Avoid purchasing products made from wild cats.
    • Purchase sustainably-harvested wood products.
    • Buy products made with certified sustainable palm oil.
    • Keep only domestic house cats, not wild cats, as pets.

Follow the Felid TAG on Facebook to learn more. Support legislation that contributes to wild cat conservation.

Curricula & Activities