James D. Elliott, Jr.

Founder and Executive Director

Jim Elliott, the Executive Director and Founder of the Avian Conservation Center, has been a life-long student of birds. His many years of experience have been significantly effective in his quest to protect avian species and their habitats.

Early in his career, Elliott became aware of the need for a professional level of care for injured birds of prey in South Carolina, equipped to sufficiently manage the direct threats to the birds of prey population. That awareness eventually led Elliott to establish the Charleston Raptor Center in 1991. As the Center grew, Elliott recognized the need to increase public understanding of avian species and the crucial role they play in the environment. This expanded vision led Elliott and his growing team to broaden the scope and reach of the organization. In 2004, the Avian Conservation Center opened, incorporating The Center for Birds of Prey and the Avian Medical and Oiled Bird Treatment Facility.

Elliott has participated in a number of professional rehabilitation and veterinary internships and training focused on the ecology, care, housing, and medical care for birds of prey, and has studied and consulted extensively with leading raptor centers both in the United States and abroad including the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program at Colorado State University, the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota at St. Paul and the National Birds of Prey Centre in the U.K.

Additionally, Elliott has led research initiatives in South Carolina, including the South Carolina Coastal Hawk Migration Study and a long-term American Swallow-tailed Kite survey. In 2002, he established the Wildlife Toxicity Working Group to investigate secondary barbiturate poisoning of bald eagles in public landfills, and in 2005, he co-founded the Avian Medical and Oiled Bird Treatment Facility in cooperation with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Elliott now serves as a member of the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council, and the Raptor Research Foundation. In 2016, he became the inaugural recipient of the Lifetime Achievement in Wildlife Conservation Award at the Southeastern Wildlife Expo. In 2001, he received the Environmental Awareness Award given by the Governor of South Carolina, and in 1998 he received the Wildlife Conservation Award given by the South Carolina Wildlife Federation. Additionally, the Center received the 2006 Award for Excellence in Management given by the South Carolina Association of Nonprofit Organizations. Elliott regularly lectures and consults on relevant avian conservation issues.

Kara Bale

Administrative and Marketing Communications Manager

Kara joined the Center in November 2012. A native of Columbia, South Carolina, she holds a B.A. in English from the University of South Carolina. She also earned a Master’s in Business Administration while at the University of Denver where she focused her studies in hospitality management and marketing. Kara has traveled extensively throughout the United States and abroad and has experienced much in the natural world, but credits the Center with pointing her eyes skyward. She is passionate about environmental conservation and dedicated to sharing the Center’s mission.

As Administrative and Marketing Communications Manager, she manages the administrative office and oversees all communications while assisting with special events and fundraising.

Daniel J. Prohaska, MA, CFRE

Development Officer

A Charleston native, Daniel moved back to his hometown of Moncks Corner in 2016 to join the Center as a Development Officer after helping his alma mater, Erskine College, raise a record $1.7 million for their 2015 annual fund campaign. He is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the Center’s fundraising program. Daniel has a long history with the Center as a young philanthropist contributing part of his allowance to the Center’s operations, an active volunteer, and now a key staff member.

In addition to his work at the Center, Daniel serves on several regional boards and steering committees, is an active member of Great Commission Baptist Church, and is a member of professional associations including the Raptor Research Foundation, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and Lions Clubs International. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Erskine College, a Master of Arts degree in Philanthropy and Development from LaGrange College, and the Certified Fund Raising Executive credential from CFRE International.

Emily Davis

Development Assistant

Emily joined the Center in March of 2014 after moving to Charleston, South Carolina from Holly, Michigan. She received her B.A. from Kent State University where she studied Fine Arts and Creative Writing. As an avid birder, Emily has participated in numerous bird surveys around the Great Lakes, Midwest, and Southeast regions. In addition to working full-time with our development office, she is a volunteer in the Avian Medical Clinic and passionately participates in taking calls through the after-hours injured bird line as well as with the renesting of young birds.

Michael Mitchum

Guest Services Representative

As Guest Services Representative, Michael takes great care of our visitor experience from check in to check out. A fourth generation native of Mount Pleasant, Michael graduated from Wando High School in 2010. He then attended Trident Technical College, before transferring to Limestone College where he received a B.S. in Organismal Biology. Throughout his professional life, Michael has sought out experiences in wildlife conservation from working in zoos and preserves, to his current position at the Avian Conservation Center. Although his past work experience has primarily been with large mammals and reptiles, since joining the Center in 2017, Michael has expanded his professional focus to include birds.

Laura Buchta


With more than 20 years of administrative and office management experience, Laura joined the Center in 2002. Her responsibilities include all areas of administrative support, including development support, grant writing and general bookkeeping.

Lisa McDonald

Financial Officer

Lisa’s responsibilities encompass accounting and financial control functions for the Center, including annual budget and independent audit requirements. Lisa is a Certified Public Accountant and holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration.

Hal Sullivan

Facilities Assistant

After a 40 year career with US Steel in Michigan, Hal retired to South Carolina to be closer to his children and grandchildren. His wife Faith serves as a Volunteer Staff Member in the Avian Medical Clinic. Hal provides numerous forms of support in maintaining the Center’s facilities, grounds and equipment.

Education and Husbandry

Stephen Schabel

Director of Education

A native of South Carolina, Stephen joined the Center in 2003 after completing his M.S. degree in Environmental Policy at the College of Charleston. Prior to graduate school, he spent several years exploring various teaching opportunities outside the traditional classroom, as well as a career as an accomplished mandolin player and vocalist for a variety of groups in the Charleston area. Stephen’s background in education and environmental policy along with his lifelong passion for the outdoors -especially birds – offers a unique and relevant foundation for his role as Director of Education. Stephen oversees the care, husbandry, and training of the Center’s educational resident bird collection as well as the design and implementation of conservation educational programs offered by the Center throughout South Carolina and beyond. Stephen particularly enjoys the aspects of “lure flying” falcons and conversing one on one with visitors about issues related to the conservation of birds and other wildlife.

Audrey Poplin

Husbandry Coordinator/Educator

Audrey began working at the Center as a Volunteer Staff Member in 2008 and completed an undergraduate internship with the Education Department in 2009. Upon graduating from the College of Charleston with a B.S. degree in Biology, Audrey joined the education staff. Throughout her childhood, Audrey had opportunities to work with wildlife in a variety of settings, including caring for injured and orphaned animals. Her growing passion for animals and their welfare led directly to her career in animal husbandry and education with the Center. Audrey’s responsibilities include managing the annual Hawk Migration Survey, daily care and feeding of the permanent resident birds, training owls and other raptors for flight demonstrations, and conducting on-site educational programs.

Natalie Hendrickson


Natalie joined the Center in 2013 after a year with the interpretive collection of the Cincinnati Zoo. Prior to her zoo position, she earned her degree in Wildlife Management from Eastern Kentucky University. As an educator for the Center, Natalie is responsible for delivering programming to visitors as well as assisting in the husbandry and training of the educational collection of birds. In addition to training birds, Natalie hones her behavior modification training skills on her two hounds “Jake” and “Elwood.”

Jessie Curry


A native of Aiken, South Carolina, Jessie joined the Center as an intern in August of 2017 after graduating with a B.S. degree in Biology with a minor in Environmental and Sustainability Studies from the College of Charleston. Her interest in conservation biology led her to explore a variety of opportunities during college including interning in the country of Panama. Jessie’s interest in the conservation issues facing wildlife, especially birds, eventually led her to the Center. Her experiences with the public as a greeter and through leading programs sparked her interest in education, and in December of 2017, she joined the Education Department as a full-time staff member. When she’s not at the Center, you can find her with her nose in a book or trying to catch up on movie classics her coworkers are constantly quoting.

Avian Medical Clinic

Jose Biascoechea, DVM, DABVP


Jose Biascoechea, DVM, DABVP earned his BS and DVM from Kansas State University. He has the distinction of belonging to an elite group of specialists worldwide who has successfully completed the rigorous training and testing to become a Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP) in Avian Practice, the highest diploma in his field. He founded Exotic Vet Care in 2000 and has been practicing exclusively exotic animal medicine and surgery since. He is the staff veterinarian for The Center for Birds of Prey and provides consulting and relief services for the South Carolina Aquarium and The Turtle Survival Center. He lectures frequently at local, state and national conferences.

Debbie Mauney

Avian Medical Clinic Director

Debbie moved from Washington, North Carolina in July 2012 to join the Center as the Medical Clinic Director. Debbie received her B.S. in Aerospace Administration from Middle Tennessee State University and her M.S. in Conservation Biology from East Carolina University. She has more than 20 years of experience in the wildlife field as an instructor, researcher and rehabilitator. Debbie oversees all functions and activities in the Avian Medical Clinic.

Keenan Freitas

Avian Medical Technician

Keenan is from Hawaii where he grew up immersed in the natural world on his family’s cattle ranch in Hilo on the Big Island. His love of wildlife brought him to the mountains of Western North Carolina to study Wildlife Biology at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk. Keenan graduated with a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and a concentration in Wildlife Rehabilitation in May 2017 after which he began working in the Avian Medical Clinic. Keenan’s responsibilities include supporting the Avian Medical Clinic Director with medical procedures and management of the Avian Medical Clinic Volunteer Staff. Keenan has a special interest in birds and reptiles and, in his free time, he can often be found exploring the wetlands and waterways of Georgetown county.