Brookfield Zoo

Coordinates: 41°49′58″N 87°50′00″W / 41.832671°N 87.833462°W / 41.832671; -87.833462
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Brookfield Zoo

Brookfield Zoo, also known as the Chicago Zoological Park,

giant pandas, one of which (Su Lin[4]) has been taxidermied and put on display in Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History. In 1960, Brookfield Zoo built the nation's first fully indoor dolphin exhibit,[5] and in the 1980s, the zoo introduced Tropic World, the first fully indoor rainforest
simulation and the then-largest indoor zoo exhibit in the world.

The Brookfield Zoo is owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and managed by the Chicago Zoological Society. The society sponsors numerous research and conservation efforts globally.


Entrance to the Brookfield Zoo, c. 1930s
Zookeeper with baby animals, c. 1940s
Dolphinarium, 2000

In 1919,

Cook County Forest Preserve District for development as a zoological garden. The district added 98 acres (400,000 m2) to that plot and in 1921, the Chicago Zoological Society was established. Serious construction did not begin until 1926, after a zoo tax was approved. Construction slowed during the Great Depression, but regained momentum by late 1931. Construction went on at an increased pace[6] and the zoo opened on July 1, 1934.[7] By the end of September 1934, over one million people had visited the new zoo;[8] the four millionth visitor was just two years later.[9]

The 1950s saw the addition of a veterinary hospital,[10] a children's zoo,[11] and the famous central fountain.[12] The zoo went through a decline in the 1960s until a large bond issue from the Forest Preserve District, close attention to zoo governance, and visitor services saw the zoo recreate itself as one of the nation's best. Tropic World, the then-largest indoor zoo exhibit in the world, was designed by French architect Pierre Venoa and opened in three phases (Africa, Asia, and South America) between 1982 and 1984.[13]

During the zoo's early decades, a narrow-gauge railroad existed, which carried guests around the outer perimeter of the park from the North Gate to the old Seven Seas dolphin habitat on the park's south end. Bison lived on a small prairie on the west end of the park and could only be seen from the train, reminiscent of the Old West. The railroad was dismantled in the mid-1980s, although the pathways once used by the train still exist as roads for service vehicles, as does the North Gate station (since converted into a snack stand).

In the early 21st century, the zoo has undergone significant capital upgrades, constructing the Hamill Family Play Zoo, Regenstein Wolf Woods, butterfly tent, sheltered group catering pavilions, and the largest non-restored, hand-carved, wooden

grizzly and polar bears, opened in 2010.[14] The interiors of several existing buildings were reconfigured into immersion exhibits, based upon ecosystems rather than by clades; these include the Living Coast (the shores of Chile and Peru), the Swamp, the Clouded Leopard Rain Forest, Desert's Edge, the African Savanna and Forest, and Australia

The zoo's reptile house, the first building to open in 1934, closed in 2005 and was converted into the Mary Ann McLean Conservation Leadership Center which does not display live animals, but it details the zoo's larger conservation mission.[15] Because of the expense of constructing Great Bear Wilderness and protests from In Defense of Animals over the deaths of the zoo's African elephants, the Pachyderm House was closed for a year in 2011 for modifications and no longer exhibits elephants or river hippopotamuses.[16]

The Children's Zoo, which opened in August 1953, was dismantled in early 2013, and a new family-based series of exhibits known as Wild Encounters opened on the site on July 1, 2015, which features a

Nigerian dwarf goats, and a free-flight parakeet aviary.[17]

The Pachyderm building also has a

pygmy hippo named 'Banana' who arrived at the zoo in May 2022 after an old female hippo passed away in June 2021.[18]

The Brookfield Zoo is also known for its majestic fountain named after the 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. On some days, the fountain's spouting water can reach up to 60 feet high.

The zoo has been closed only five times in its history: On September 14, 2008, after damage from a weekend rainstorm;[19] on February 2, 2011, after a major blizzard; on April 18–19, 2013, after flooding from a severe rainstorm;[20] January 30–31, 2019, due to below-freezing temperatures;[21] January 12, 2024 due a winter storm;[22] and from March 19 to July 1, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[23]

In September 2023, the zoo received the largest private donation in the history of the zoo, $40 million, from an anonymous donor.[24][25]

Notable animals (past and present)

Notable staff

Chicago cartoonist John T. McCutcheon was the president of the Chicago Zoological Society from 1921 until 1948 and oversaw the zoo's construction, opening and its early years, including helping it through the war years, when the zoo saw a decrease in attendance.

Grace Olive Wiley briefly worked as a reptile curator at the zoo in 1935.[26]

George B. Rabb was the director of Brookfield Zoo from 1976 until 2003, having originally worked as a researcher and an assistant to the director.

Conservation programs

The Brookfield Zoo has a conservation project in Punta San Juan, Peru. Disney World partnered with the zoo by giving a $25,000 grant assigned specifically to the work in Punta San Juan, Peru, which helped the Chicago Zoological Society conservationists gain clearance into the highly restricted and protected area. The CZS has hired multiple people that already worked for the reserve to help build a conservation research team. Samples are taken from wildlife such as South American sea lions, Inca terns, Peruvian boobies, guanay cormorants, Grey gulls, and the endangered Humboldt penguins. The team uses the information they gathered to research the environment, observe the species, and monitor populations. Project results further knowledge about the ocean and help save endangered species. Team members also continuously have groups of children, of varying ages, go out to clean up garbage that accumulates on the beaches of Punta San Juan from the Pacific Ocean.[27]


Ground hornbill (Bucorvidae) with trainer

In 2014, revenue of the Brookfield Zoo was made up by $26.6 million from admissions and guest services, $15.2 million from taxes, $11.5 million from membership dues, $11.5 million from contributions, sponsorships, and net assets released, and $1.2 million from investments and other income. Expenses in 2014 included $15.7 million for admissions and guest services, $15 million for animal collections and conservation programs, $10.7 million for care of buildings and grounds, $7.9 million for management and general, $5.9 million for public education and communications, $3.8 million for marketing and public relations, $3.4 million for fundraising, and $1.4 million for membership. Revenue totaled $66 million and spending totaled $63.8 million during 2014.[28]

In 2010, Governor Pat Quinn granted the Brookfield Zoo $15.6 million to aid repairing and remodeling many parts of the zoo. This included updating the north entrance to the zoo on 31st Street and Golfview Avenue.[29]

The CZS has hosted several fundraising events, Wines in the Wild and Wild Wild Whirl, where they collected various donations ranging in totals from $130,000 to $1.5 million.[30][31]

A total of 808 volunteers help the zoo with 74,401 community service hours which equates to $1.86 million of work.[28]

Economic movement approaches $150 million, 2,000 jobs, 580 volunteers, and around 2.2 million visitors every year.[32][33]


  • Hamill Family Play Zoo entrance
    Hamill Family Play Zoo entrance
  • Rhino exhibit
    Rhino exhibit
  • Humboldt penguins at the Living Coast exhibit
    Humboldt penguins at the Living Coast exhibit
  • Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata)
    Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata)
  • Gorilla at the zoo
    Gorilla at the zoo
  • Orangutans
  • Amur leopard
  • Peacock near pond
    Peacock near pond
  • Polar bear exhibit
    Polar bear exhibit
  • Zebra feeding on hay
    Zebra feeding on hay
  • Dolphin show
    Dolphin show
  • American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
    American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)


  1. ^ "Currently Accredited Zoos and Aquariums". AZA. Retrieved 20 August 2011.
  2. ^ "Brookfield Zoo (Chicago Zoological Park)". Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago Historical Society.
  3. ^ "Brookfield Zoo". Encyclopædia Britannica. 5 January 2024.
  4. ^ "Pandas Galore". Time. 1938-04-11. Archived from the original on August 26, 2010.
  5. ^ Poirier, Sarah (25 July 2019). "The 17 Largest Zoos In The US Are A Must See For Animal Lovers". The Travel.
  6. ^ "50 CWA Workers Rush Construction on Brookfield Zoo". Chicago Daily Tribune. 1933-12-31. p. 6.
  7. ^ Kelley, Katherine (1934-01-18). "Brookfield Zoo Will Be Ready to Open July 1". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 20.
  8. ^ "Total of Brookfield Zoo Visitors Exceeds Million". Chicago Daily Tribune. 1934-09-29. p. 5.
  9. ^ "Zoo's 4,000,000th Visitor". Chicago Daily Tribune. 1936-09-08. p. 1. Phyllis Guren of Bemidji, Minn., the 4000000th visitor to the Brookfield zoo, with bicycle which was her reward.
  10. ^ Hutchinson, Louise (1953-01-15). "Brookfield Zoo Hospital Gives Succor to Sick". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. S9.
  11. ^ Hutchinson, Louise (1953-07-19). "2 Kinds of Kids Ready for New Brookfield Zoo". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. NW6.
  12. ^ "Dedicate Theodore Roosevelt Fountain at Zoo". Chicago Daily Tribune. 1954-05-15. p. B7.
  13. ^ Presecky, William (1983-05-11). "Brookfield Zoo's Tropic World opens doorway to Asia". Chicago Tribune. p. SD3.
  14. ^ "Brookfield Zoo opening 7.5 acre 'Great Bear Wilderness'". Chicago Tribune. April 18, 2010.
  15. ^ "Brookfield Zoo's Reptile House transformed". Riverside Brookfield Landmark. December 3, 2013.
  16. ^ "Chicago's Last Elephant Leaves Brookfield Zoo". Chicago Parent. September 23, 2010.
  17. ^ "The former Brookfield's Children's Zoo has gone wild". Chicago Tribune. June 30, 2015.
  18. ^ "Meet Brookfield Zoo's new Pygmy Hippo Banana". WGN9. July 12, 2022.
  19. ^ "Brookfield Zoo shuts down for 1st time". Chicago Tribune. September 16, 2008.
  20. ^ "Brookfield Zoo To Reopen After Floods Begin Receding". CBS News. April 19, 2013.
  21. ^ "Brookfield Zoo Plans to Close January 30 and 31 due to Weather". Chicago Zoological Society. January 28, 2019.
  22. ^ "Log in or sign up to view". Retrieved 2024-01-14.
  23. ^ "Brookfield Zoo reopens to members July 1; to the public July 8. Here's what will be different". Chicago Tribune. June 26, 2020.
  24. ^ "Brookfield Zoo receives $40M, largest single donation in its history". CBS News Chicago.
  25. ^ Wetli, Patty. "Brookfield Zoo Has More Big News to Celebrate: A Record-Setting $40M Donation". WTTW News.
  26. ^ "Miscellany: Apples". Time. 1935-09-30. Archived from the original on December 22, 2011.
  27. ^ Gregory, Ted. "Brookfield Zoo's Quiet Crusade: Saving Wildlife on the Peruvian Coast." Chicago Tribune, December 22, 2015. Accessed February 21, 2016.
  28. ^ a b Chicago Zoological Society. "2014 Annual Report." N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. Archived 2015-10-20 at the Wayback Machine
  29. ^ Smith, Katie. "Gov. Quinn Gives $15.6 Million to Brookfield Zoo, Which Is Criticized by Animal Rights Groups for Its Elephant Conditions." Gov. Quinn Gives $15.6 Million to Brookfield Zoo, Which Is Criticized by Animal Rights Groups for Its Elephant Conditions. January 12, 2010. Accessed February 28, 2016. {{Webarchive|url= |date=2016-05-13 }}.
  30. ^ Litas, Lee A. ""Wines in the Wild" Raises $130,000 for Brookfield Zoo." Western Springs, The Doing. Chicago Tribune, 23 Nov. 2015. Web. 11 Feb. 2016. .
  31. ^ Pioneer Press. "Brookfield Zoo Celebrates a Wild Wild Whirl." Western Springs, The Doing. Chicago Tribune, 7 May 2015. Web. 11 Feb. 2016. .
  32. ^ "Chicago Zoological Society - Economic Impact." Chicago Zoological Society - Economic Impact. 2014. Accessed February 27, 2016.
  33. ^ Uphues, Bob. "Cool weather, rain means fewer visitors to Brookfield zoo". Growing Community Media. Riverside-Brookfield Landmark.

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