ASHEBORO, NC - The North Carolina Zoo is proud to announce two awards recently bestowed on several of our outstanding zoo keepers by the American Association of Zoo Keepers, Inc. (AAZK) at the National Conference in Washington D.C.

First, the North Carolina Zoo’s Training Resource Team (TRT) recently received the prestigious Certificate of Merit for Zoo Keeper Education Award. This grassroots team of frontline animal care specialists (zoo keepers), was established in 2015 to support the Zoo’s overall behavioral management program. This program is designed to use animal training and environmental enrichment techniques to improve animal welfare through behavior modification. 

The core team of the TRT includes Bria Stambaugh, Nicole Pepo, Dana Urbanski, Tamara Trull, Kelly Nields, and Angela Macy. This dedicated group was distinguished by their AAZK peers for developing an animal training resource for all keepers at the North Carolina Zoo. Through this group, staff is able to seek advice and guidance from those with more experience. The team, passionate about conservation, the animals in their care and their peers, was elated by the honor. These professionals were selected to be the core team based on years of zoo keeping experience or because of time spent working with the Zoo’s Training Consultant, Phung Luu. The idea was to continue the training momentum when Luu was not available on park. 

The TRT, recently renamed the Behavior Management Team (BMT), is expanding their goals to include all aspects of behavior management, not only training. Monthly meetings can either focus on a specific topic (such as teamwork or weight and diet management), consist of training demonstrations, or to serve as a brainstorming opportunity for new or challenging training needs. Keepers from all over the park attend, discuss, and problem solves with each other. 

The second award was presented to Nicole Pepo for the Lutz Ruhe Meritorious Achievement award as AAZK’s Professional of the Year

“I had to hold back tears as I heard what my colleagues had said about me on the nomination form. I have no words to articulate my gratitude,” Pepo said when interviewed. 

She was singled out for her significant involvement with AAZK, the Zoo’s Arctic Ambassador Center team, the Behavior Management Team as well as her promotion of conservation and the ability to spread awareness of environmental issues. Pepo practices what she preaches by organizing tree plantings in Asheboro and involving the entire community. She has demonstrated a superior passion for helping animals in her care and advocating for their wild counterparts. 

About the North Carolina Zoo 

At the North Carolina Zoo, we celebrate nature. As the world’s largest natural habitat zoo, we inspire a lifelong curiosity about animals for the hundreds of thousands of people who visit our Zoo each year. Our dedicated team of experts provides exceptional, compassionate care for the more than 1,600 animals and 52,000 plants that call our park home. We also lead efforts locally and globally to protect wildlife and wild places because we believe nature’s diversity is critical for our collective future. The North Carolina Zoo invites all of our guests to witness the majesty of the wild in the heart of North Carolina and welcome everyone to join in our mission to protect nature’s diversity. Visit to begin your life-changing journey. 

About the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources 

The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDNCR) is the state agency with a vision to be the leader in using the state’s natural and cultural resources to build the social, cultural, educational and economic future of North Carolina. NCDNCR's mission is to improve the quality of life in our state by creating opportunities to experience excellence in the arts, history, libraries and nature in North Carolina by stimulating learning, inspiring creativity, preserving the state’s history, conserving the state’s natural heritage, encouraging recreation and cultural tourism, and promoting economic development. 

NCDNCR includes 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, two science museums, three aquariums and Jennette’s Pier, 39 state parks and recreation areas, the N.C.  Zoo, the nation's first state-supported Symphony Orchestra, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, State Preservation Office and the Office of State Archaeology, along with the Division of Land and Water Stewardship. For more information, please call (919) 807-7300 or visit