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John Lehnhardt


John Lehnhardt is the Animal and Environmental Policy and Standards Technical Director
for Animal Programs and Environmental Initiatives, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts worldwide.

John started his career as an elephant and seal/sea lion keeper over three decades ago. John soon observed that the negative care of animals was leading to stress of the elephants that resulted in a high number of deaths of trainers.   He then developed a protocol to allow elephants to live more naturally that revolutionized the care of Elephants around the world.  The net result of John's contribution is that elephants and other animals are now living more peacefully and in harmony with their natural instincts and trainers are no longer being killed from poor standards.

Now responsible for the environmental initiatives of Disney Parks and Resorts around the world, John still maintains at the core of his approach to enviornmental issues strategies for harmony and peaceful coexistence with nature.
Bachelor of Arts, College of Biological Sciences 1971       High School Diploma - Honors                      1966
University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois             Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, New Hampshire
Employment with The Walt Disney Company, P.O. Box 10000, Lake Buena Vista, Fl 32830

Animal and Environmental Policy and Standards Technical Director        April 2009 to present
Animal Programs and Environmental Initiatives, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts
Establish and implement animal and environmental policies and standards for the Walt Disney Parks & Resorts.

Animal Operations Director, Disney’s Animal Kingdom                 May 1998 to April 2009
Responsible for all animal husbandry and collection management in the Animal Husbandry Division, Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  Responsible for management of 261 staff and 1700 animals in a complex animal focused theme park.

Curator of Elephant/Mammals, Disney’s Animal Kingdom                Apr. 1997 - May 1998
Responsible for completion of facility construction, selection, acquisition and management of elephants and hiring of the elephant staff for the new Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park.

Associate/Assistant curator/Supervisory Biologist, Department of Mammology    Feb.1988 - Apr. 1997
National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 20008
Responsible for management of large mammal collection. Responsible for hiring, training, supervision and evaluation of a 10 person keeper staff in the large mammal area. Instructor, AZA "Principles of Elephant Management" course 1995-9. Course administrator 1997-9. Instructor, African Savannah Ecology Workshop, Kenya, 1994-5. Studied working elephants and elephant management culture in India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar with Dr. Christen Wemmer 1994-5.

Elephant Trainer, Calgary Zoo and Botanical Garden                May 1980 – Jan. 1988  
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2M-4R8     
Co-responsible for development and implementation of a comprehensive elephant management and breeding program with 2.2 Sri Lankan elephants. Assisted in the successful birth of an elephant calf, Aug. 1986. Managed macaque, snow leopard and hyrax exhibits. Assisted with hippo, giraffe and rhinoceros exhibits.

Animal Keeper, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, Illinois 60614             Aug. 1976 – May 1980
Offered keeper position after scoring highest of over 500 applicants on Chicago Park District civil service exam. Responsible for training and management of 0.3 elephants, one African and two Asians.

Research Technician, University of Chicago, Division of Biological Sciences     Aug. 1975 – Aug. 1976
Pritzker School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois
Studied rat kidney biochemistry under F. Gary Toback, Md, PHD. Received acknowledgement for technical assistance on several published research papers.

Kennelmaster, Anti-Cruelty Society, Chicago, Illinois                 Nov. 1973 – Aug. 1975
Coordinated animal care in humane society shelter. Supervised 15 employees on three shifts. Responsible for scheduling, hiring, budget, animal receiving and disposition including euthanasia.

Child Care Worker, Pritzker Children’s Hospital and Center, Chicago, Illinois     Sept. 1971 – Sept. 1973
Counselor for emotionally disturbed children in a residential diagnostic psychiatric center. Promoted to coordinating counselor responsible for training and supervision of six childcare workers.


Smithsonian National Zoo Asian Trail Phase II project working for Chatelain Architects.
Denver Zoo Asian Trail project.
Cleveland MetroParks Zoo elephant facility.
Co-designed successful bull elephant holding facility for the Calgary Zoo(completed 1982) including: safe bull holding and breeding area, hydraulic doors, indoor pool, two outdoor exhibit yards, electric fencing and floor heat.
Consultant between 2002-2007 on Elephant programs at the Pittsburgh Zoo, Miami Metrozoo, Indianapolis Zoological Society, St. Louis Zoo and Philadelphia Zoo.

Professional Member - American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) – 1991 to present 
Professional Member - Elephant Manager's Association (EMA) 1989 to present
Board of Directors - International Elephant Foundation (IEF) – 1999 to present, secretary 2000 to 2008
AZA Elephant Taxon Advisory Group Steering Committee member 1991- to present - Vice Chair 2001 to present
Board of Directors, The National Elephant Center, Inc., 2007 to present
Board of Advisors, Santa Fe Community College Teaching Zoo, 2001 – present

Lehnhardt, "Building a Safe, Long-term Elephant Breeding Facility at the Calgary Zoo", Animal Keepers Forum, Jan. 1983.

Lehnhardt, "A New Approach to Chaining Elephants at the Calgary Zoo", Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Elephant Workshop, New Orleans, LA 1984.

Lehnhardt, "Musth and Arthritis in a Young Asian Bull Elephant", Proceedings, 6th Annual Elephant Workshop, Fort Worth, TX 1985.

Lehnhardt, J., "Comparative Weight Gains of Mother Reared and Hand Reared Asian Elephant calves at the Calgary Zoo", Proceedings of the Eighth Annual Elephant Workshop, Asheboro, NC, 1987.

Brown, Citino, Bush, Lehnhardt, & Phillips. "Cyclic patterns of luteinizing hormone, follicle stimulating hormone, inhibin, and progesterone secretion in Asian elephant (Elephas maximus). Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 22(1): 49-57, 1991.

Lehnhardt, "Elephant Handling: A Problem in Risk Management and Resource Allocation", Proceedings of the AAZPA Annual Conference, Sept. 1991.

Contributor to Elephants, Majestic Creatures of the Wild, 1992, Weldon Owen Pty, Limited, NSW Australia.

Hyatt, Richardson, Copeland, Lehnhardt, "Ele-Type: An Automated Feeding and Testing Device for Elephants", IEEE Transactions on Instrumentation and Measurement, Vol. 43. No. 1, Feb. 1994

Lehnhardt, "Propagation of Elephants in Captivity", Proceedings of the AZA Annual Conference, Atlanta, September, 1994.

Lehnhardt, Flynn, "Integrating "STARS", the Specialized Training and Reinforcement System" into the Elephant Management Program at the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park", Proceedings of the AZA Northeast Regional Conference, Norfolk, May 1995.

Lehnhardt, "Working Elephants in Sri Lanka and Myanmar", Proceedings of the 16th Elephant Manager's Workshop, Takoma, Washington, Oct. 1995.

Brown, J.L. and J. Lehnhardt. 1995. Serum and urinary hormones during pregnancy and the peri- and postpartum period in an Asian elephant (Elephans maximus). Zoo. Biol. 14:555-564

Brown, Wemmer, Lehnhardt, "Urinary Cortisol Analysis for monitoring adrenal activity in Elephants", Zoo Biology, Vol.14, No. 6, 1995, page 533.

Brown, Lehnhardt, "Serum and Urinary Hormones During Pregnancy and the Peri- and Postpartum Period in an Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus), Zoo Biology, Vol.14, No. 6, 1995, page 555.

Lehnhardt, "Wildlife Conservation ... in Zoos", SWARA, Vol.18 No. 6, November/December 1995, p. 12.

Brown, J.L. and J. Lehnhardt. 1997. Secretory patterns of serum prolactin in Asian (Elephus maximus) and African (Loxodonta africana) elephants during different reproductive states: Comparison with concentrations in a non-cycling African elephant: Zoo Biol.16:149-159.

Richman, Montali, Garber, Kennedy, Lehnhardt, Hildebrandt, Schmitt, Hardy, Alcendor, Hayward, “Novel Endotheliotropic Herpesviruses Fatal for Asian and African Elephants”, SCIENCE, vol. 283, No. 5405, Feb. 19, 1999, pg 171

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