Southern hairy-nosed wombats at Brookfield Zoo
Some guests to Brookfield Zoo may not know what a southern hairy-nosed wombat is since there are only 10 in four North American zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). But if they visit Brookfield Zoo’s Australia House, they will get to see several of these marsupials, including a female joey that was born February 18, 2012. The not-yet-named joey is the fourth offspring of 12-year-old Kambora, who was born at San Diego Zoo, and the second for Wilbur, 20, who was wild-born in Australia. Although the joey was born more than eight months ago, it wasn’t until mid-September that zookeepers were able to get a good look at the youngster because, like all marsupials, wombat joeys develop in a pouch. Immediately after birth, the tiny joeywhich was about the size of a bumblebee—crawled into Kambora’s pouch, where she has been sleeping and nursing to get all the necessary nutrients she needs to fully develop. Now predominantly out of her mom’s pouch, the inquisitive joey has been exploring her new surroundings
Last month, the Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which manages Brookfield Zoo, held the first North American international symposium on southern hairy-nosed wombats. During the three-day meeting, representatives for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and from Australia shared information on care, husbandry, conservation, and management of the species. Participants discussed local and regional wombat conservation issues in Australia, as well as the importation process that has been established with the Australian government. This past summer marked a significant milestone for the southern hairy-nosed wombat program in the United States in that it was the first importation of this species in several decades.
In 1969, Brookfield Zoo received three southern hairy-nosed wombats and, in 1974, became the first zoo outside of Australia to successfully breed the species in professional care. Since then, there have been 16 successful wombat births at Brookfield Zoo.
The southern hairy-nosed wombat management program is supported of AZA’s Taxon Advisory Group, 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; San Diego Zoo; Toledo Zoo; and Toronto Zoo.
Southern hairy-nosed wombats are thick, heavy-bodied animals found in arid to semiarid savannah woodlands, grasslands, and low shrub plains in central southern Australia. They are about the size of a medium-size dog but are much more rounded and solidly built. Wombats have long claws, a stubby tail, a flattened head that looks too big for their body, and short, powerful legs. They use their long claws when digging warrens—complex, underground tunnel systems—that are the center of wombat life. Each warren is made up of several separate burrows. Wombats never wander too far from their warrens. Several wombats may have their warrens near each other, forming a cluster. However, they rarely interact with each other. Currently, the wombat population in Australia is being threatened by habitat loss, drought, and agricultural practices.