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Bio Margaret Whittaker

Ms. Whittaker began her animal career in at the Houston Zoo where she worked as an animal keeper in the small mammal, primate, large mammal, elephant, and pinniped areas. She began developing her skills with positive reinforcement training (PRT) techniques when working with the pinniped collection, and applied these same techniques to a variety of monkeys and great apes. When she became the supervisor of the elephant and pinniped areas, the elephant program was in the process of converting to Protected Contact management for the entire herd of Asian elephants. This was the first breeding program to manage all of its elephants, including babies, with only PRT. Conservation programs have always been a priority interest; she has been an active member of the AZA Old World Monkey Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) since its inception in 1991, is the SSP Coordinator for Guenons, manages the North American Diana monkey Studbook and is the population manager, and is the behavioral advisor to the TAG.

For the past 16 years, she has been with Active Environments as a behavioral consultant working with zoos, biomedical facilities, and sanctuaries in North, Central and South America, Europe, and Asia, to develop behavioral management programs for a broad range of species. Her expertise is behavioral management program development that incorporates the use of positive reinforcement training and environmental enrichment techniques to enhance captive animal care and welfare. She has published numerous papers and book chapters on the benefits of positive reinforcement training, teaches workshops worldwide that focus on: PRT for elephants, primates, and broader workshops for all zoological species; and elephant foot care and management. Her B.S. is in Wildlife and Fisheries Science from Texas A & M University, and she has completed M.A. work in Anthropology at the University of Houston.

Consultant, Active Environments, Inc.
1996 - Present Animal Behavior Consultant

  • Assist institutions in the development and implementation of animal behavior management programs to enhance animal care and welfare for all species.
  • Provide staff training in positive reinforcement and environmental enrichment techniques, and problem solving through classroom instruction, and on-site instruction.
  • Conduct facility and animal management assessments and provide recommendations to address institutional objectives and problem situations.
  • Assist institutions in producing and developing animal demonstrations, with script emphasis on conservation education.


M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Department of Veterinary Sciences, Bastrop, Texas
2002 – 2004 Animal Research Technologist II, Chimpanzee Trainer

  • Member of training team responsible for training of 150 chimpanzees to voluntarily participate in husbandry, veterinary, and research behaviors.
  • Develop and maintain records for all aspects of behavioral activities.
  • Assist in training of new staff to implement positive reinforcement training theory and technique.
  • Prepare animals to voluntarily participate in various research protocols. Positive reinforcement training is used to facilitate GLP studies by gaining the animal's cooperation for many procedures associated with these studies.

Animal Behavioral Consulting - Selected Client List

Detroit Zoo, Michigan

Bronx Zoo, New York
Belo Horizonte Zoo, Brazil
Wake Forest University Medical School, North Carolina
North Carolina Zoo, North Carolina

El Paso Zoo, Texas

San Francisco Zoo, California
Edmonton Valley Zoo, Canada
Moody Gardens, Texas
Lincoln Park Zoo, Illinois

Workshop and Course Instruction

Animal Behavioral Management, Texas

This semester-long course is taught at Houston Community College with the goal of introducing students to the comprehensive behavioral care of animals, known as behavioral management. Techniques and theory of positive reinforcement training as well as practical application of positive reinforcement are achieved through classroom lectures and hands-on animal training during class time.

Animal Training for the Zoo Professional, Certification Course, Singapore
Animal trainer course certified by the WDA in Singapore for show trainers at the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari. 32 hour course covering all aspects of animal care, husbandry, welfare, enrichment and training for presentations, shows, interactions, and direct public contact. The first of its kind for Singapore Zoological Gardens.

Training and Enrichment Workshop for Zoo and Aquarium Animals
Organizer and instructor for comprehensive workshop for terrestrial and aquatic animals hosted by 2 AZA Accredited facilities, Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas, and the Oakland Zoo in Oakland, California. Interactive workshop combining class work, demonstrations, and hands-on opportunities with variety of animals in training, enrichment, and data collection. Course offered annually.

Old World Monkey TAG's Behavioral Management Workshop, St. Louis, MO
Co-developed and taught this 3.5-day workshop. This workshop focused on social management of Old World Monkeys (OWM) and included OWM behavior, introduction strategies, and the use of behavioral management techniques, psychotropic medications, and traditional Chinese medicine to modify and manage behavior with the purpose of enhancing introductions and social housing success.

Primate Training and Enrichment Workshop, Texas
Teach 4.5 day workshop including lectures, panel discussions, demonstrations, and problem solving exercises for zoo and biomedical professionals. This successful workshop has been offered up to 3 times per year (to meet the demand) over the past 16 years, and has served as the model from which the elephant workshops were developed.

Advanced Primate Training and Enrichment Workshop, Georgia
Co-developed, with instructors from M. D. Anderson Science Park and Yerkes Primate Center, a 4.5-day workshop that focused on advanced techniques and topics of operant conditioning and environmental enrichment, including: positive and negative reinforcement, behavioral data collection, and the development of comprehensive behavioral management programs. The workshop's targeted audience includes those who care for and manage primates in zoos, biomedical facilities, and sanctuaries.

Primate Enrichment and Training Seminar, Annual AALAS National Conference
Co-developed and taught 8-hour seminar including lectures, demonstrations, and problem solving exercises that introduces biomedical professionals to techniques of positive reinforcement training. This seminar has been offered at the annual conferences since 2001; it will be offered indefinitely to meet demand.

Introductory Primate Enrichment and Training Workshop
4-hour workshop held at AALAS National Conference. This intensive course introduced behavioral management techniques for all species of primates held in biomedical facilities. Both classroom instruction and group activities provided diverse learning opportunities.

Advanced Primate Enrichment and Training Workshop
4-hour workshop held at AALAS National Conference. This intensive course focused on more advanced techniques of behavioral management for those individuals managing and working directly with all species of primates in biomedical facilities. Both classroom instruction and group activities provided diverse learning opportunities.

Protected Contact Elephant Training and Enrichment Workshop
Organized, developed, and co-taught this four-day workshop including lectures, discussions, demonstrations, and problem solving exercises for zoo professionals, elephant sanctuary and rescue managers. This first PC workshop on elephant care was offered in November 2000 and has been offered since at the North Carolina Zoo, Zoo Atlanta, and the Performing Animal Welfare Society's ARK 2000 Sanctuary.

Protected Contact Elephant Training and Enrichment Workshop, Morelia, Mexico
Cooperatively organized, developed, and taught this four-day workshop including lecture, discussion, group exercises, and demonstrations for zoo keepers, directors, elephant managers, and veterinarians from all over Mexico.

AZA Old World Monkey Advisory Group- Behavioral Management Workshop, Utah
Organized, developed, and taught this one-day course to AZA facility managers and staff as part of AZA OWM TAG Annual Meeting.

Conducting Behavioral Research in the Zoo Setting Workshop, Texas
Organized, developed, and served as one of the instructors for this 3-day workshop to train zoo staff to conduct behavioral research in the zoo setting.

AAZK Lone Star Keeper Symposium- Positive Reinforcement Training Workshop, Texas
Organized, developed and taught one-day course to animal keepers on use of positive reinforcement training to manage social behavior, achieve animal's voluntary participation in husbandry and veterinary procedures, and enhance well-being through enrichment strategies.

Invited Speaker

American Association of Zoo Veterinarians
American Association of Zoo Keepers Symposium
American Association of Lab Animal Science - Regional and National Conferences
American Federation of Aviculturists
Animal Behavior Management Alliance
Canadian Association of Laboratory Animal Science
European Zoo Veterinarians Association
International Zoological Meeting (Encontro Internacional de Zoologicos), Brazil
Laboratory Animal Welfare Training Exchange
Laboratory Animal Managers Association
Meeting of Brazilian Zoological Societies (Congressso da Sociedade de Zoologicos do Brasil), Brazil
UMAS (Unity Approaching Sustainable Management), Mexico
Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums
American Veterinary Medical Association

Committee and Organization Membership

Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Animal Behavior Management Alliance – Board Member of ABMA
Behavioral Advisor - AZA Old World Monkey Taxon Advisory Group
Population Manager/ Studbook Keeper - Diana Monkey (Cercopithecus d. diana)
SSP Coordinator – Guenons
Elephant Managers Association
International Marine Animal Trainers Association

Other Employment Experience

2001 Marine Mammal Care and Training Manager, Ocean Adventure, Subic Bay, Philippines
Responsible for care and training of pinniped collection. Animals maintained in unique open water habitats, posing unique challenges to captive animal care. Responsible for training naïve, Filipino staff in the care, management, and training of pinnipeds. Animals trained for shows and husbandry behaviors.

2000-2001 Marine Mammal Care and Training Manager, Beijing Landa Aquarium, China
Supervise Chinese staff responsible for the care and training of South American sea lions, California sea lions, false killer whales, and Pacific bottlenose dolphins. Responsibilities include: developing positive reinforcement training and enrichment skills as well as animal care techniques in the Chinese staff, producing and developing shows, training animals for husbandry and veterinary procedures and show behaviors.

1992-1998 Supervisor of Elephants and Pinnipeds, Houston Zoological Gardens
Supervised staff responsible for the daily care and training of harbor seals, California sea lions, and a breeding group of Asian elephants. Offspring were produced by the sea lions and the elephants; developed training protocols for these animals. This elephant calf was the first elephant to be born into, and fully trained in a PC system. Responsible for hiring and training all staff to manage and care for collection. Participated in design of new exhibit, barns, and training areas, and renovations to existing exhibit. Managed 2.4 elephants during construction, renovation, and move to new areas.

1992-1993 Supervisor of Hoof Stock, Houston Zoological Gardens
Supervised staff responsible for the daily care and management of variety of ungulate species, including: giraffe, oryx, antelope, gazelle, camels, bison, hippo, zebra, and white rhino. During this time, the mammal curator position was vacant, so as supervisor, I assumed curatorial responsibilities including animal acquisition and disposition, shipments and transfers as well as personal management.

1987-1991 Animal Keeper, Houston Zoological Gardens
Worked in small mammal, primate, and large mammal ares. Developed and implemented enrichment and training strategies for many animals in the collection, with particular emphasis on Old World Monkeys. Prepared temporary facilities for and moved entire primate collection to these facilities during demolition and construction phase of new exhibit; participated in design phase of new primate facility.

1986 Intern, Education Department and Children's Zoo, Houston Zoological Gardens
Developed and implemented educational programs for teenagers and adults on Endangered Species, with special emphasis on North American species. Researched and developed pamphlets on local wildlife and endangered species of Texas; these were distributed to zoo visitors in the Children's Zoo. Worked as zoo keeper intern to learn basic animal care techniques.

Education and Relevant Courses

1986 - B. S. Wildlife and Fisheries, Texas A & M University. Course work emphasis on museum science, environmental sciences and education, and wildlife biology.

1990 – Anthropology, University of Houston. Completed course work, comprehensive exams, and thesis research entitled, "Behavioral Changes in a Pair of Captive Siamangs (Hylobates syndactylus) Resulting from a Changed Environment", towards Master's of Arts Degree.

1993 - AZA Professional School, Principles of Elephant Management

1994 - AZA Professional School, Studbook Course (now PM1)

1995 - AZA Professional School, SSP Course (now PM2)

Selected Publications

Abadie, M. 1997. Medical management of an Asian elephant herd in protected contact system. Paper presented at the AZA annual conference, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September.

Laule G, Whittaker M. 1998. The use of positive reinforcement techniques in the medical management of captive animals. In: Proceedings of the joint conf AAZV & AAWV. p. 383-387.

Laule, G., Whittaker, M. 2000. Protected contact: beyond the barrier. Paper prestned a tteh AZA annual conference, Orlando, Florida, September.

Laule, G.; Whittaker, M. 2001. Training for cooperation in husbandry and enrichment. In: Special Topics in Primatology: The care and management of captive chimpanzees. Ed. Linda Brent, American Society of Primatologists.

2006 Laule G and Whittaker M. Enhancing nonhuman primate care and welfare through the use of positive reinforcement training. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 10:31-38

Laule, G., Whittaker, M. 2007. Enhancing nonhuman primate care and welfare through the use of positive reinforcement training. In: Journal of Applied animal Welfare Science, 10(1), 31-38.

Laule G and Whittaker M. 2009. Protected contact and elephant welfare. in Kane L, Waldau P, Forthman D, (Eds.) The Elephant in the Room. Tufts University, Cambridge, MA

Lester, B., Abadie, M. 1990. The introduction of an adult Eastern Lowland gorilla to Lowe's guenons. Presented at the First Gorilla Conference, Columbus, OH.

Whittaker, M.; Laule, G.; Perlman, J.; Schapiro, S.; Keeling, M. 2001. Behavioral Management Approach to Caring for Great Apes. Great Apes, the 21st Century, Conference Proceedings.

Whittaker, M. 2005. Applied problem solving to diminish abnormal behavior. In: Proceedings of the International Conference for Environmental Enrichment.

Whittaker, M. 2005. Managing monkey behavior: advancing the social management of Old World monkeys, presented at the AZA Annual Conference, Chicago, IL.

Whittaker, M. 2006. Positive reinforcement training to enhance the care and welfare of captive animals. Paper presented at the joint meeting of Canadian Association of Laboratory Animal Science & Association of Canadienne pour la Sci des Anim de Lab, Montreal, Canada, June.

Whittaker, M., Laule, G. 2007. Innovations in positive reinforcement training: enhancing social behavior. In: Proceedings from the International Conference for Environmental Enrichment, Vienna, Austria

Whittaker, M., Perlman, J., Laule, G., Bloomsmith, M. 2007. Practically challenging: behavioral

management and the real world: overcoming obstacles in both the zoological and research settings. In:

Proceedings of the Animal Behavioral Management Alliance Annual Conference.

Whittaker, M., Perlman, J., Laule, G. 2007. Facing real world challenges: keeping behavioral management programs alive and well. In: Proceedings from the International Conference for Environmental Enrichment, Vienna, Austria

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