Taronga Science : Conservation in Action

The scientists of Taronga weave existing knowledge and new data together to accurately depict our environment, foresee threats, test avenues for management and inform the most effective conservation action. In short, we help find the way to execute Taronga’s vision to Secure a Shared Future for Wildlife and People.

Our work encompasses many important areas of scientific endeavour from the enormous living organism that is the Great Barrier Reef to the tiny Corroboree Frog. Taronga scientists, partnering with other scientific agencies, bring diverse expertise to the quest to address specific environmental questions. The value of our collaborative work is the ultimate application of this knowledge - to make better informed wildlife and habitat management decisions.

Project Disciplines


Population Dynamics & Viability

Wildlife Health

Wildlife Health

Investigating and mitigating the impact of disease on wildlife and habitats.

Behaviour & Nutrition

Population Management

Population Management

Investigating genetic management and husbandry practices to ensure species survival.

Justine O’Brien, BSc (Hons) PhD - Manager, Conservation Science

Justine is a University of Sydney graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and a PhD in Veterinary Science for her work on gamete biology and assisted reproduction. She has 20 years experience in wildlife reproductive research specialising in strategies for maintaining population genetic diversity and reproductive health.

Hannah Bender BVSc, PhD

Hannah is a veterinary pathologist with a long held interest in wildlife health and conservation.

Jane Hall (BSc, Cert II Zoo Keeping)

Australian Registry of Wildlife Health – Information and Resources Coordinator. Jane worked as a Zookeeper in a small native fauna park before moving to Sydney in 2002 where she began work in a human pathology laboratory.

Peter Harlow (BSC (Hons), PhD)

Peter completed his PhD in 2002, the same year he started work at Taronga Zoo as the manager of the Herpetofauna Division (reptiles and amphibians). His PhD was on the distribution and evolution of temperature-dependent sex determination in Australian dragon lizards. Before joining Taronga he worked as a research assistant at Sydney University for many years, studying aspects of the biology and ecology of a diverse range of reptile and amphibian species, including salt water crocodiles, lizards, snakes and turtles.

Margaret Hawkins (BSc (Hons))

Behavioural Biologist Emeritus. With the appointment of the assistant Behavioural Biologist, Margaret has changed her focus to the writing up and publishing of collected data and the supervision of research projects.

Kimberly Vinette Herrin (MS, DVM)

Veterinary Officer. Kimberly came to Taronga Zoo after gaining over eight years of zoo medicine experience as a veterinarian at Gladys Porter Zoo in the South of Texas and Ocean Park aquarium in Hong Kong.

Frances Hulst (BVSc(Hons) MVS)

Veterinary Officer. Frances Hulst graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Veterinary Science in 1983. She worked for a number of years, both in Australia and the UK.
Neil Jordan (BSc, MSc, PhD)

Neil Jordan (BSc, MSc, PhD)

Neil is a joint research fellow at the University of New South Wales and the Taronga Conservation Society, based in the Wildlife Reproductive Centre at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo.

Michael McFadden - BSc (Hons)

Unit Supervisor - Herpetofauna. Michael began working at Taronga Zoo in January 2003, soon after completing his honours degree on endogenous seasonal cycles in the endangered Regent Honeyeater.

Karrie Rose (DVM, DVSc)

Pathologist Veterinary Registrar. Karrie became interested in working with wildlife while conducting field research and population studies with Ferruginous Hawks and Burrowing Owls during university summer breaks.

David Slip (BSc, MSc, PhD)

Research Biologist, Marine Biology. In June 2008 he joined Taronga as a research biologist of marine mammals. His research interests include foraging ecology, population dynamics, diving physiology, energetics.
Monique Van Sluys

Monique Van Sluys (BSc, MSc, PhD)

With over 20 years of experience in many aspects of science and science management, Monique has joined Taronga and is currently acting as Wildlife Conservation Officer, Life Sciences, Research and Conservation, representing Taronga’s scientists and coordinating conservation activity.

Larry Vogelnest (BVSc (Hons), MVS, MACVS, PSM)

Senior Veterinarian. Dr Vogelnest has participated in and advised on both in situ and ex situ components of numerous conservation projects. He specialises in the health and reproductive management of small populations.

John West (Dip Aqua, PSM)

John West was a former Manager of Life Sciences Operations at Taronga and Taronga Western Plains Zoos. He has been the Curator of the Australian Shark Attack File supported by the Taronga Conservation Society Australia (TCSA) for the last 30 years.

Jo Day (BMarSc (Hons), PhD)

Jo Day is interested in using genetic and behavioural techniques to answer questions in behavioural ecology and wildlife conservation.d
Rebecca Hobbs

Rebecca Hobbs (BSc(Biomed), PhD)

Rebecca’s primary research interest is in cryobiology of non-mammalian sperm, such as coral and squamate lizards. Rebecca plans to expand Taronga’s existing genebank reserves – the Taronga CryoReserve – as a vital resource for conservation managers and scientific researchers.

Alicia Burns ( BSc (Hons), PhD Candidate)

Alicia began as a volunteer in 2011 before joining BSU fulltime in 2015. She studies the ecological consequences of animal personalities, and how individual behavioural differences shape the social dynamics of animal groups. At Taronga Alicia combines studies of personality and cognition to inform welfare practices, and is currently devising a new tool to measure the welfare of all collection animals.

Michelle Shaw

Australia’s first and only Zoo Nutritionist, Michelle manages Taronga’s Animal Nutrition Centre, directs Nutrition research and consults for zoos internationally. Michelle focuses on improving the understanding of the nutrient requirements of wildlife species by studying adaptations to their natural diet.

Caralyn Kemp (Bsc (Hons), PhD)

Caralyn is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, studying the interactions between visitors and animals within the zoo environment.
Leesa Keogh

Leesa Keogh (BSc (Hons))

Leesa Keogh is in the final stages of completing her PhD at the University of Wollongong. In 2017, Leesa commenced work at Taronga Western Plains Zoo as a Reproductive technician, where her role involves developing new techniques for hormonal analysis of captive and wild fauna, supporting gene banking projects and expanding our fundamental knowledge of the reproductive and stress physiology of wildlife.
Ben Pitcher

Ben Pitcher (BSc, PhD)

Ben Pitcher is a behavioural and sensory ecologist whose research focuses on the evolution of animal cognition and how animals use multiple sensory systems for foraging, communication and recognition in complex and changing environments.
Claire Ford

Claire Ford (BSc) - Manager, Population Development & Welfare

Claire joined the Taronga Conservation and Population team in 2016. She is responsible for strategically planning Taronga’s animal population and promoting positive animal welfare outcomes at both Taronga Zoo and Taronga Western Plains Zoo.
Phoebe Meagher

Dr Phoebe Meagher BSc (Hons), PhD

Dr Phoebe Meagher completed a Bachelor of Science, Biodiversity and Conservation, at Macquarie University and received first class honours for her work assessing the genetic diversity of Grey nurse sharks on the east and west coast of Australia. She completed her PhD in Zoology at the University of Sydney in 2010 investigating the reproductive biology of Eastern Shovel-nose rays. She has previously worked in several leading scientific research centres including the Centre for Research of Ecological Impacts of Coastal Cities and the Australian Museum.
Lydia Tong

Lydia Tong MA VetMB

Lydia is Taronga Zoo's veterinary pathologist and is responsible for conducting diagnostic surgical pathology and necropsy of any and all animals in Taronga's care. Lydia has a diverse professional background as a clinical vet and pathologist, working with domestic and wild species around the world, including Borneo, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, East Timor, Vanuatu, Tonga, the UK and Australia.
Leanne Elliot

Leanne Elliot, MEnv Candidate

Leanne is passionate about wildlife conservation and has been working on a range of conservation projects over the past 9 years. Prior to joining Taronga, she worked in the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific on coastal and marine species conservation, supported the CEO and Board of WWF-Australia for 4 years and was also based in Southern Africa, working on a cheetah research and wildlife conflict management initiative in the Kalahari.

Our Supporters

Taronga is a not-for-profit organisation which receives less than 15% of its annual funding from the NSW Government. In order to support many of Taronga’s activities, funds must be raised through other revenue sources.

Currently, Taronga commits approximately $1.3 million each year to undertaking our conservation science program. Through grants and in-kind commitments of our partners, we have been able to leverage this to an estimated $3.8million this year to achieve our wildlife scientific goals. The foundation of this work is private philanthropic donations.

It is with enormous gratitude, we thank our supporters for their confidence in our work and for their dedication to wildlife and our natural environment.

Founding Patron

  • Ms Gretel Packer


  • Paradice Family Foundation
  • Maple-Brown Family Foundation
  • The Caledonia Foundation
  • The Ottomin Foundation
  • Ms Rebel Penfold-Russell OAM
  • Mrs Sarah Whyte
  • Mr and Mrs Garry and Susan Rothwell
  • Ms Victoria Taylor
  • Mrs Camilla Boyd
  • Mr Edward Simpson
  • Hugo Yasamoto (Cranbrook School) and Jack McGreal (Scots College)
  • Mr and Mrs Ian and Alexandra Darling
  • Mr James Carnegie
  • Mr Maurice Newman AC
  • Dr Rebecca Spindler and Mr Duncan Bourne
  • Ms Gisela Kenyon
  • Mr Eric Braun and Ms Angela Lyos
  • Ms Christina Ditfurth
  • Ms Jill Hoad and Mr Peter King
  • Mrs Anna Hyles
  • Mrs Rowena Danziger AM and Mr Ken Coles AM
  • Ms Virginia De Michele
  • Mrs Claudia Stahl
  • Ms Sharon Hodgson
  • Mr and Mrs Michael and Kate Bova
  • Ms Catherine Francis
  • Mr and Mrs Richard and Lisa Allen
  • Dr and Mrs Andrew and Charlotte Lennox
  • Ms Katie-Louise Clinton
  • Mrs Joanna Hunter & Family
  • Ms Danielle Heidbrink
  • Ms Deborah Thomas
  • Ms Georgina Stromland
  • Ms Kimberly Grounds
  • Ms Samantha Meers
  • Mr and Mrs Mark and Louise Nelson
  • Mr and Mrs Ann and Warwick Johnson