By Bob Uphues
As of Jan. 6, bush fires in southeast Australia had laid waste to millions of acres of land, and more than 100 fires were still burning in the states of New South Wales and Victoria as well as on Kangaroo Island in South Australia, just off the coast from Adelaide.
And while fires in the hills northeast of Adelaide have been extinguished, officials still continue to monitor the situation – including those overseeing Brookfield Conservation Park, about 80 miles northeast of Adelaide.
According to Kim Arnott, spokesperson for South Australia's Department for Environment and Water, "Brookfield Conservation Park has not been impacted by any current fires."
The "Brookfield" in the park's name is no coincidence. The roughly 13,700-square-mile park takes its name from Brookfield Zoo, whose connection to the area goes back to the early 1970s.
Back then, the Chicago Zoological Society, which operates Brookfield Zoo, kick-started an initiative to save the hairy-nosed wombat, which were in danger of extinction due to South Australia sheep ranchers, who killed them because of the damage they did to fences. Holes in the fences, according to a Chicago Tribune article from the time, would allow dingoes to enter ranches and kill sheep.
So, with a $55,000 donation from the Forest Park Foundation of Peoria, the Chicago Zoological Society purchased the Glen Leslie Station sheep ranch northeast of Adelaide to preserve the wombat.
It was around that time Brookfield Zoo also opened its Australia House, which displayed animals such as the wombat, Tasmanian devils and other exotic species from the continent.
According to the Parks for Us All website, maintained by Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA), the Chicago Zoological Society donated the former ranch land to the state of South Australia in 1977 and the site was christened the Brookfield Conservation Park a year later.
The establishment of the conservation area kicked off a long partnership between Brookfield Zoo and its Australian counterparts, with Brookfield Zoo's longtime assistant director, Pamela Parker, engaging in what the Chicago Tribune termed "zooplomacy" in a 1990 article that detailed joint research and conservation efforts to preserve Australia's native species.
According to Sondra Katzen, director of public relatiosn for the Chicago Zoological Society, Brookfield Zoo hasn't had any direct connection to Brookfield Conservation Park since about 2007.
The CVA now manages the park, which is visited by tourists and researchers, who are drawn to its flora and fauna, including, according to the park's website, "a wide array of native wildlife, not only the southern hairy-nosed wombat (lasiorhinus latifrons), but also species such as the fat-tailed dunnart, common dunnart, red and western grey kangaroos and emus.
"These animals share the park with abundant bird life including the nationally vulnerable malleefowl (leipoa ocellata), Australian ringneck parrots, hooded robins and crested bellbirds along with the rarer stone curlew, ground cuckoo shrikes and Australian owlet nightjars."