Donor and former Zoo Commission President, Shelby Kaplan Sloan established the Sloan Animal Keeper Advanced Studies Fund in 2003 to provide keepers with opportunities for hands-on field experiences with particular animals. Upon completing their fieldwork, they share their experiences and insights with the staff and the animals at the Zoo.
Australia is home to three species of wombat: the bare-nosed wombat, also known as the common wombat, the southern hairy-nosed wombat, and the northern hairy-nosed wombat, also known as yaminon. Like so much endemic Australian wildlife, all three face increasing challenges from habitat loss, human development, and introduced species.
Animal Keeper Damian Lechner, who works with the Zoo’s southern hairy-nosed wombat, received the July 2013 Sloan grant and used the funds to participate in fieldwork with Dr. Elisa Sparrow of Adelaide Zoo, the leading researcher studying wombat populations west of Adelaide in Australia. Working with Dr. Sparrow and her team of colleagues and volunteers, he explored wombat habitat and had the opportunity to learn about wild wombat behavior. During his three-and-a-half-week stay, he also spent time at Adelaide and Perth zoos learning about wombat husbandry and training techniques. He also picked up some valuable information about echidna and Tasmanian devil management.
“My field research to study wombats in Australia gave me a new appreciation for wombats,” Damian observes. “I saw the challenges that wombats face from predation to farmer/wombat conflict and assisted Dr. Sparrow with finding possible solutions to those issues. This trip truly changed my life. Thank you Shelby Sloan, L.A. Zoo, and every one of my friends who supported me.”