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Brookfield Zoo

Plan a visit to Illinois' delightful Brookfield Zoo.

Visitors to the Brookfield Zoo can observe African lions, snow leopards, brown sloth bears and more. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Visitors to the Brookfield Zoo can observe African lions, snow leopards, brown sloth bears and more.

Visitors to the Brookfield Zoo delight in the zoo's many interactive exhibits -- such as going nose to nose with an Alaskan Brown Bear or seeing a spider monkey swing through the trees above their heads.

The Brookfield Zoo opened on July 1, 1934, but the hope for the zoo actually began 15 years earlier. In 1919, Edith Rockefeller McCormick donated 83 acres of land to be used specifically for a modern zoo. The Forest Preserve District of Cook County contributed additional property, bringing the total number of acres to around 200. Several delays, including the stock market crash in 1929, postponed the opening of the zoo until 1934.

Since it opened, people have associated the Brookfield Zoo with innovation. Designed with moats and natural barriers instead of cages, it was the first "barless zoo" in the United States and the first to exhibit giant pandas. The Brookfield Zoo gained international attention in 1960 for building the nation's first inland dolphinarium. In the 1970s and 1980s, the zoo built and opened Tropic World, an indoor rain forest exhibit that was the first of its kind. Upon completion, Tropic World -- complete with thunderstorms and waterfalls -- was the largest zoo exhibit in the world. As of 2009, the Brookfield Zoo, located just outside Chicago, Illinois, sits on 216 acres and contains over 2,500 animals.

Chicago Zoological Society

The Brookfield Zoo is operated by the Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which was chartered in 1921. Shortly after its formation, the CZS elected John Tinney McCutcheon, a former cartoonist for the Chicago Tribune, as its first president. The CZS exists to "inspire conservation leadership by connecting people with wildlife and nature." The CZS is an international leader in animal care and conservation, education, animal husbandry and medical care.

Exhibits and Attractions

The Brookfield Zoo has more than 20 exhibits and attractions. In the Bear Grottos, visitors at the Bear Viewing window can see a massive Alaskan brown bear or polar bear up close. An adjacent training window gives guests a closer peek at a bear's paws, nails, teeth and gums during wellness exams.

At Seven Seas, visitors at the Underwater Viewing window observe dolphins swimming and playing and learn about the Chicago Zoological Society (CZS)'s long-term role in dolphin conservation. Guests definitely don't want to miss one of Brookfield Zoo's daily dolphin shows, in which Atlantic bottlenose dolphins demonstrate their amazing intelligence and agility.

The Fragile Kingdom is an area comprised of three separate habitats spotlighting an array of animals. In Fragile Desert, guests encounter meerkats, crested porcupines and desert dogs. In Fragile Hunters, visitors watch African lions, snow leopards, tigers and brown sloth bears as they lounge on rocks, swim in a stream and climb nearby trees. In Fragile Rain Forest visitors experience the sights, sounds and smells of a real rain forest complete with otters, squirrels, bats and snakes.

Other exhibits include Regenstein Wolf Woods, which offers visitors a close-up look at the rare Mexican gray wolf in an interactive petting zoo; the Children's Zoo, an educational area for kids; and the Hoofed Animal Exhibit, which allows visitors to closely observe zebras, bison, camels and antelope.

Contributions of the Brookfield Zoo and the Chicago Zoological Society 

The Chicago Zoological Society has a proven reputation as a leader in conservation, education and animal care. The Society is one of the few zoological organizations in the world to have zoo nutritionists on staff to ensure that animals' dietary requirements are met. Fewer than 20 zoo nutritionists work in the United States, and many of them were trained at the Brookfield Zoo. The ongoing research of zoo nutritionists ensures that captive animals around the word receive proper nutrition.

The Brookfield Zoo and CZS ensure the conservation of animals worldwide through their work with the Species Survival Plan (SSP). This plan is a coordinated effort by zookeepers to sustain a healthy population of zoo animals, so that no animals are taken from the wild and forced to live in zoos. The Brookfield Zoo houses 44 of the 116 species covered under this plan including the African elephant, black rhinoceros, reticulated giraffe and polar bear. In fact, the first black rhinoceros born in captivity was born at the Brookfield Zoo.

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