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Margaret Hawkins

Behavioural Biologist Emeritus.

Margaret’s first career was in biochemical research. After completing an honours degree at Sydney University in 1962, she held research positions at CSIRO, Sydney Hospital, Australian National University and Royal North Shore Hospital working on projects in lipid metabolism, high blood pressure in pregnancy and development of hormone radio-immunoassays. She came to Taronga Zoo as a volunteer in 1975 and, as well as enjoying guiding visitors around the Zoo, soon became involved, via the volunteer committee, in the organisation and training of volunteers. She was a member of the inaugural Zoo Friends Council, which set up the Zoo’s support organisation. 

In 1985 she was asked by keeping staff to carry out some behavioural observations on primates, initially Capuchin Monkeys, gibbon and chimpanzees and the Animal Watch program was born. Margaret went back to university to update her qualifications in zoology and animal behaviour and was appointed to zoo staff in 1988. Volunteers were trained in quantitative behavioural data collection methods and the scope and complexity of projects undertaken increased. Projects that stand out from those early years were the behavioural monitoring of the Giant Pandas, the introduction of a new male to the chimpanzee group, the move of the orang-utans to their new exhibit and the investigation of the effects of NightZoo.  Margaret developed a keen interest in environmental enrichment and was instrumental in increasing awareness and enrichment implementation around the zoo and formalising zoo programs Australia wide-through conference workshops and involvement in keeper training.

In 2007 the program was renamed the Behavioural Studies Unit and became an inherent part of Scientific Research and Wildlife Conservation at the Zoo. With the appointment of Dr Vicky Melfi as the Behavioural Biologist, Margaret has changed her focus to the writing up and publishing of collected data and the supervision of research projects, and has taken up an Emeritus position at Taronga. Projects currently being worked on are the breeding behaviour of platypus, the little-known behaviour of the cryptic and endangered Long-beaked Echidna and the effects of exhibit moves and exhibit design on a variety of Zoo species. She remains involved in world zoo environmental enrichment as co-chair of SHAPE Australasia and secretary of SHAPE International and the IEEC committee.

Taronga Zoo, Margaret Hawkins