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School of Botany and Zoology





Anjeli Catherine Nathan

18 March 1975 - 3 November 1999

Anjeli was born on the island of Mallorca on 18 March 1975 and was brought to Australia as a baby by her parents Liz and Vis Nathan. The Nathans settled in Canberra, Liz's home town, where Anjeli and her brother Robert completed their early schooling. At the age of 13 Anjeli won a scholarship to attend the prestigious Geelong Grammar School, the same scholarship her brother had taken up some years before, but she decided to remain in Canberra with her family and friends and finished her secondary schooling at the local Dickson College. Anjeli excelled at school and by her graduation in 1992 had collected numerous academic awards.

In 1993 Anjeli began her undergraduate studies at the Australian National University, enrolling in a combined Science/Arts degree course. She pursued her interests in zoology, ecology, anthropology and philosophy for the first two years of her studies before changing her enrolment to Science only and concentrating on biology for the remainder of her time at the ANU. Anjeli's education in biology centred on the School of Botany and Zoology, where she took most of the courses offered and proved herself to be an outstanding student. In 1996 Anjeli was selected for the Distinguished Scholars Programme at the School and took six biology courses, obtaining the premier grade of High Distinction in all of them. In 1997 she was awarded the L. D. Pryor Prize and the Country Women's Association Prize for the best female third-year student in the life sciences.

Although committed to her formal studies, Anjeli was keen to experience and learn the practical side of biology and in 1995 took a semester off to work for Dr Rob McGrath as a field assistant on his project on white-browed scrub wrens. During this period Anjeli became involved in the social life of the School of Botany and Zoology and initiated some enduring friendships amongst the staff and post-graduate students. She also realised the value of her involvement in a real research project and in later years again worked for Rob McGrath and also spent some time with Dr Rob Heinsohn and Sarah Legge in far north Queensland, assisting them in their study of eclectus parrots.

In June 1997 Anjeli began her honours course under the supervision of Professor Andrew Cockburn and his PhD student, Sarah Legge. Her project grew out of Sarah's indirect observations of siblicide in broods of Laughing Kookaburras. Anjeli placed miniature surveillance cameras in nest hollows and recorded nestling aggression and siblicide on digital video. She analysed the occurrence of aggression and eventual siblicide in relation to variables such as nestling age, parental provisioning and brooding rates, hatching asynchrony and the hatching order of male and female chicks. One of Anjeli's significant conclusions was that parent kookaburras could indirectly influence the occurrence of siblicide in their broods by manipulating the hatching asynchrony and sex of the first and second hatched chicks. Anjeli's Honours thesis 'Sibling Rivalry in the Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae)' and her outstanding undergraduate record won her the University medal in 1998. Sarah Legge and Andrew Cockburn published Anjeli's major findings posthumously in the November 2001 edition of the prestigious journal, Behavioural Ecology.

Anjeli's academic interest in animal behaviour and biology in general was founded on a love of animals and an unshakeable belief in the inherent value and rights of individual animals, both wild and domestic. From the age of ten she enjoyed the constant companionship of her pet Chihuahua Swallow, and managed to keep chickens and ducks at several group houses in Canberra. As a young teenager she became a committed vegetarian and thereafter never wavered in her belief that it was wrong to kill another animal for food. Anjeli was also a vocal conservationist and for several years co-presented a weekly radio program on conservation issues on the Canberra community radio station 2XX.

Anjeli's attitude to life was characterised by a happy and constant engagement with a large circle of friends and the energetic pursuit of many and diverse interests. These included the guitar, which she studied as a child at the Canberra School of Music, gardening, cooking and craft activities  such as knitting and making her own clothes. It was not unusual for Anjeli to produce a delicious meal for friends consisting largely of vegetables she had grown herself, and she freely admitted that she enjoyed the craft activities at the after-school care centres, where she worked while a student, as much as the children she supervised. One of the later highlights of Anjeli's life was being present to assist with the birth of the son of two of her closest friends in early 1999.

A favourite activity of Anjeli's, which combined her love of the bush and the company of her friends, was bushwalking. Anjeli was a regular visitor to some of the most rugged wilderness areas in southern New South Wales, such as the Budawangs, the coastal reserves and the alps, as well as venturing further afield to Tasmania, where she walked the nine-day South Coast Track. Many of her friends cherish fond memories of Anjeli's enthusiasm and unrestrained delight in the adventure and discovery of being in the bush.

Travel was another major interest of Anjeli's, starting with family trips to India to visit her father's relatives and to England and Spain, where she visited the village of her birth, Fornalutx. At the end of college Anjeli and two friends spent a month in Sumatra and during her undergraduate years she travelled in India and Nepal. Anjeli spent the first half of 1997, before starting her Honours project, backpacking in Europe.

After completing her Honours degree, Anjeli did not want to rush straight onto further study and decided not to pursue PhD opportunities until she felt she was ready and had a clearer idea of what she wanted. Two of the questions she was entertaining were whether to move overseas and whether to favour a mammalian study species, and she seized the opportunity to broaden her experience by taking a position as a field assistant with Professor Tim Clutton-Brock at Cambridge University. The job was in the remote north-west of South Africa, where Anjeli would be part of a team of researchers studying the behaviour of meerkats. She left in April 1999, originally planning to work on the meerkat project for six months and travel for a short period in South Africa. However, toward the end of her time at the project she was offered the opportunity to habituate a new group of meerkats to human presence and agreed to stay on for a short period after taking a two-week holiday visiting wildlife parks and walking in the Drakensberg Mountains. It was while returning from this holiday that the driver of the car in which Anjeli was a passenger lost control and the vehicle rolled. Anjeli was taken unconscious and with severe head injuries to hospital in a nearby town, where she died soon after. Her body was returned to Canberra and was cremated in a coffin that was hand-made of recycled wood and beautifully decorated by many of Anjeli's friends.

Anjeli is survived and remembered with love by her parents Vis and Elizabeth Nathan, her brother Robert Nathan and by friends too numerous to mention.

Daniel Ebert and Liz Nathan December 2001


Nathan A. 1998. Sibling rivalry in the laughing kookaburra, (Dacelo novaeguineae). Honours thesis, School of Botany and Zoology Australian National University.

Nathan A, Legge S, Cockburn A, 2001. Nestling aggression in broods of a siblicidal kingfisher, the laughing kookaburra. Behav Ecol 12:716-725.

Magrath R. D., Leedman A. W., Gardner J. L., Giannesca A., Nathan A. C., Yezerinac, S. M., Nicholls, J. A. 2000. Life in the slow lane: reproductive life history of the white-browed scrubwren, an Australian endemic. Auk 117: 479-489.

Works Dedicated to Anjeli

Legge, S. M. 1999 Cooperative breeding and siblicide in the laughing kookaburra. PhD thesis, School of Botany and Zoology Australian National University.

McGrath, R. D. 2001. Group breeding dramatically increases reproductive success of yearling, but not older female scrubwrens: a model for cooperatively breeding birds? J. Anim. Ecol. 70: 370-385.