If you travel the zoos of the United States, you will eventually see just about every species of African, Asian, North American, and South American animal that you can imagine... and plenty that you can't. Far less common are the animals of Australia; those zoos which do display Australian species usually just have kangaroos and emus, maybe a few birds or reptiles to round out the collection. Koalas, wombats, and other iconic Aussies are very rare in our collections. The reason is simple - with all of their regulations, it's easier to get blood from a stone than an animal (legally) out of Australia.
That's what makes the news from Fort Wayne Children's Zoo so exciting and depressing at the same time. Exciting because the US is about to get its third facility with Tasmanian devils. Depressing because it shows just how desperate the conservation of the species in Australia has become. The devils (the largest living carnivorous marsupials) are dying off from a strange disease which appears to be very contagious. The Australians seem to have decided that it's safer not to put all of their deviled eggs in one basket... and maybe to put a few baskets on the other side of the world.
Hopefully, the three American zoos chosen to initiate the US branch of this captive breeding program will be able to establish a sustainable devil population over here, further ensuring the survival of the species. Even more hopefully, the disease which is threatening the animals in the wild will be controlled and contained, allowing the species to recover in the wild.
Coolah was the last Tasmanian devil in the world living outside of Australia when he died at the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo in 2004. Photo provided by the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo.