The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which manages Brookfield Zoo, is leading an initiative to help bring non-releasable southern hairy-nosed wombats from Australia to North America to ensure a sustainable wombat population in zoos.
Thanks to these efforts, two wombats orphaned in Australia–a male and a female–were welcomed at Brookfield Zoo on July 11, 2012. Their arrival marked the first importation of this species to the United States in several decades.
The pair is part of a collaborative program with Zoos South Australia, a non-profit conservation organization that is sending rescued wombats to participating North American zoos. The two wombats will eventually go to Toronto Zoo in Canada where they will hopefully breed, adding to the population. The arrival of the wombats was so significant that Roger Price, Australian Consul General, and Gitane De Silva, Canadian Consul General, visited Brookfield Zoo’s Animal Hospital to see one of the wombats and observe these conservation efforts firsthand.
Currently (including the two wombats that just arrived), there are only nine wombats living in North American zoos. Brookfield Zoo is home to three of these wombats with a joey expected to peak its head out of its mother’s pouch in a few months.
The southern hairy-nosed wombat management program is part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Taxon Advisory Group (TAG), which develops recommendations for population management and conservation. CZS staff members worked closely with Zoos South Australia to develop the program and form an agreement with the Australian government. With Brookfield Zoo, other participating zoos are ABQ BioPark, Albuquerque, N.M.; Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens; Memphis Zoo, Tenn.; San Diego Zoo; Toledo Zoo, Ohio; and Toronto Zoo.
The Brookfield Zoo’s new arrivals received physical examinations and are being housed in the zoo’s Animal Hospital’s quarantine area for a required 30 days before being transferred to Toronto Zoo.
In 1969, Brookfield Zoo received three southern hairy-nosed wombats and in 1975 became the first zoo outside of Australia to successfully breed the species in professional care. Because of its long history and expertise in wombat care, the CZS, along with other zoos with wombat experience, is providing husbandry training for other institutions that will be receiving wombats in the future. Brookfield Zoo will be the first to welcome all imported wombats.
“We are honored to lead this collaborative effort and provide wombats with expert care as they make the journey to their future homes,” said Glenn Granat, one of the curators for the Chicago Zoological Society. “For more than 40 years, Brookfield Zoo has cared for wombats. We look forward to sharing our resources and expertise with other zoos participating in the program.”
Southern hairy-nosed wombats are thick, heavy-bodied animals found in arid to semi-arid savannah woodland, grassland and low shrub plains in central southern Australia. Currently, the wombat population in Australia is being threatened by habitat loss, drought and agricultural practices.