News Release

October 5, 2012

Contact: Sondra Katzen
Public Relations

Note: Images of southern hairy-nosed wombats at Brookfield Zoo may be downloaded at

Chicago Zoological Society Leads International Symposium on Wombat Management Program
Symposium will Contribute to the Development of a Conservation and Education Program in North American Zoos

     Brookfield, Ill. — It is difficult for most Americans to describe a wombat since there are only nine of the short-legged, brown, furry native Australian marsupials living in North America. However, representatives from Australia and North American zoos hope to change that as population management and conservation of southern hairy-nosed wombats is the focus of an international symposium hosted by the Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which manages Brookfield Zoo, from October 17 through 19.

CZS is leading an initiative to help bring orphaned, southern hairy-nosed wombats to select North American zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The initiative is part of a collaborative program with Zoos South Australia, a non-profit conservation charity that is sending rescued wombats to participating zoos. Wombats are burrowing animals, and their population in Australia is being threatened by habitat loss caused by drought, human interference, and agricultural practices.

“We are honored that our leadership for more than 40 years in successfully caring for and breeding wombats will allow us to share our resources and expertise with other zoos,” said Stuart D. Strahl, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society. “This initiative demonstrates our commitment to conservation research and education efforts at Brookfield Zoo and around the world.”

This is the first wombat symposium that will gather AZA institutions and representatives from Australia to share information on care, husbandry, conservation, and management. Participants will discuss local and regional wombat conservation issues in Australia as well as the importation process that has been established with the Australian government. In addition, because of its long history and expertise in wombat care, CZS, along with other zoos with wombat experience, will provide training on husbandry and care for other institutions that will receive wombats in the future.

“We look forward to collaborating with other zoos across the country to develop and grow a North American wombat conservation program,” said Glenn Granat, curator for the Chicago Zoological Society. “We are committed to developing a robust breeding and education program as it is vital to the preservation of wombats.”

Topics being discussed at the symposium include:
  • • Overview of the wombat program at Brookfield Zoo and the current import process, led by Glenn T. Granat, curator for the Chicago Zoological Society
  • • The wombat import process from the Australian perspective, led by Gert Skipper, curator collection development at Adelaide Zoo, Australia
  • • Reproduction and ecology of wombats and other native wildlife; reintroduction biology; captive breeding; and involvement of the public in research and conservation, led by Dr. Elisa Sparrow, conservation officer for Zoo South Australia Conservation Ark
  • • Wombat endocrinology, behavior, enrichment, and nutrition, led by staff at the Chicago Zoological Society
  • • Medical care, including preventive medicine and chemotherapy protocols, developed and written at CZS, led by Thomas Meehan, vice president of veterinary services
  • • Update on the southern hairy-nosed wombat studbook, led by Jeanne Brown, lead zookeeper for the Chicago Zoological Society
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 a professional setting. The AZA’s southern hairy-nosed wombat studbook is managed by Jeanne Brown, a lead keeper at CZS. As part of this process, she works closely to maintain documents that include the pedigree and entire demographic history of each wombat in the North American zoo population.

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. 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 its 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.

The Chicago Zoological Society inspires conservation leadership by connecting people with wildlife and nature. The Chicago Zoological Society is a private nonprofit organization that operates Brookfield Zoo on land owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. The Society is known throughout the world for Brookfield Zoo's innovative, naturalistic, multispecies exhibits, and for its international role in animal population management and wildlife conservation. For further information, visit

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