Brookfield Zoo

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Brookfield Zoo
Roosevelt Fountain, with Ibex Island in the background
Date opened July 1, 1934
Location Brookfield, Illinois, USA
Coordinates 41°49′58″N 87°50′00″W / 41.832671°N 87.833462°W / 41.832671; -87.833462Coordinates: 41°49′58″N 87°50′00″W / 41.832671°N 87.833462°W / 41.832671; -87.833462
Land area 216 acres (87 ha)
Number of animals 2300
Number of species 450
Memberships AZA[1]
Public transit access BNSF Hollywood

Brookfield Zoo, also known as the Chicago Zoological Park,[2][3] is a zoo located in the Chicago suburb of Brookfield, Illinois. It houses around 450 species of animals in an area of 216 acres (87 ha). It opened on July 1, 1934,[4] and quickly gained international recognition for using moats and ditches instead of cages to separate animals from visitors and from other animals. The zoo was also the first in America to exhibit giant pandas, one of which (Su Lin[5]) 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, and in the 1980s, the zoo introduced Tropic World, the first fully indoor rain forest simulation and the then-largest indoor zoo exhibit in the world.

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


1938 WPA poster

In 1919, Edith Rockefeller McCormick donated land she had received from her father as a wedding gift to the 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]

North Gate

In the early 21st century, the zoo has undergone significant capital upgrades, constructing the Regenstein Wolf Woods, the Hamill Family Play Zoo, butterfly tent, sheltered group catering pavilions, and the largest non-restored, hand-carved, wooden carousel in the United States. Great Bear Wilderness, a new, sprawling habitat, opened in 2010. The interiors of several existing buildings were reconfigured into immersion exhibits, based upon ecosystems rather than by clades; these include The Swamp, the Fragile Rain Forest, Fragile Desert (the Sahara desert of North Africa) the Living Coast (the shores of Chile and Peru), the African Savanna, and Australia House.

The Zoo's reptile house, the first building to open in 1934, was closed in December 2004 and is being converted into a conservation center which will not display live animals but will detail the zoo's larger conservation mission. The children's zoo was dismantled in early 2013, along with the abandoned bear grottos, for future development projects.

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 hippopotamuses. The building dates back to 1934 and currently houses only rhinoceroses, tapirs, and pygmy hippos.

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 three times in its history: On September 14, 2008, after damage from a weekend rainstorm; on February 2, 2011, after a major blizzard; and April 18–19, 2013, after flooding from a severe rainstorm.



The Seven Seas at CZS or Brookfield Zoo currently has 8 atlantic bottlenose dolphins. Allie(F), Tapeko(F), Spree(F), Noelani(F), Allison(F), Merlin(M), Magic(M),and Maxine(F).


Ziggy was a 6.5 ton male elephant that was kept in an indoor enclosure for nearly thirty years after it attacked its trainer George 'Slim' Lewis in 1941. Ziggy was originally bought by theater empresario Florenz Ziegfeld as a birthday present for his daughter Patricia, but was given to the zoo when he outgrew his pen on the grounds of the Ziegfelds' manor in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. During the 1960s and 1970s, Ziggy attained a cult following in the Chicago area, and the elephant was finally released in 1970 amid much fanfare. Unfortunately, the elephant fell into his exhibit's moat in March 1975 and died seven months later.[14]


Olga was an Atlantic walrus and a favorite to thousands of visitors between 1962 and 1988, entertaining them with her antics.[15] She is remembered by a large bronze statue in the current sea mammal exhibit.

Binti Jua

Binti Jua was a female Western lowland gorilla. On August 16, 1996, a very young boy, visiting the zoo with his parents, fell into the gorilla exhibit of Tropic World. Binti Jua ran over to the crying boy and carefully cradled him and kept other gorillas away from him. When rescue workers arrived she brought the boy to them.[16] The incident received international attention in the media for Binti Jua, who also received special treats and attention from zoo staff for quite some time. It started a debate as to whether Binti Jua's actions were the result of the training she had received from her keepers (who had taught her to bring her own baby Koola to zoo curators for inspection) or was it an instinctive sense of animal altruism.


Cookie, a Major Mitchell's cockatoo, has been part of the zoo's collection since the opening in 1934. He was given to Brookfield Zoo when he was one year old. He is now permanently off-exhibit. A much younger current resident is Esmerelda, the only black spider monkey in North America.

Former holdings

Former exhibits[edit]

  • Bear Grottos - Old home of brown bears, sloth bears, spectacled bears, and polar bears. This exhibit closed when brown bears and polar bears were moved to the Great Bear Wilderness in 2010 and the sloth bears were moved into Fragile Hunters.[17]
  • Ibex Island - Home of Siberian Ibex and was replaced by the Great Bear Wilderness's Bison Exhibit.[18]
  • Reptile House - Former home of a majority of the zoo's reptiles. Feathers and Scales and Perching Bird House became the new homes for these animals. Now a staff building.
  • Be A Bird - Former home of a portion of the zoo's bird collection. Renovated into Feathers and Scales, which became the new home for these animals. Others moved into Perching Bird House.
  • Baboon Island - Former home of a large troop of Guinea baboons, the last three of which were euthanized due to old age in 2013. It was soon closed for renovation.

Special exhibits[edit]

Since 2007, Brookfield Zoo has offered seasonal exhibits available from late April through September/October.

  • 2007: Stingray Bay! - Cownose ray and Southern stingray
  • 2008: Sharks! at Stingray Bay! - Cownose ray, southern stingray, whitespotted bamboo shark, nurse shark, and horseshoe crab
  • 2009: Dinosaurs ALIVE! - 18 animatronic dinosaurs, including Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Pteranodon, and Tyrannosaurus Rex
  • 2010: The return of Stingray Bay! - 20+ cownose rays in an interactive touch pool.
  • 2011: Stingray Bay! - Cownose Rays
  • 2012: Extreme Bugs!
  • 2013: Dinosaurs ALIVE! - They're back! 24 lifelike, life-size animatronic prehistoric creatures.

Notable staff and programs[edit]

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.[19]

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.

Brookfield has had exceptional success in breeding the sitatunga, a type of antelope. It also bred the world’s first captive-born black rhinoceros (1941)[20] and gray-headed kingfisher (1980), the first okapi born in the United States (1959),[21] and the first wombat born outside Australia (1975).

Brookfield Zoo is right next to the Riverside Brookfield High School and had a program for freshman with the zoo called SEE (School of Environmental Education) team. The SEE Team and many other clubs, activities, and faculty members at RBHS were cut following a failed 2011 referendum. Then in 2012, the SEE Team was resurrected due to its popularity.



  1. ^ "List of 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. 
  4. ^ Retrieved 21 February 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ "Pandas Galore". Time. 1938-04-11. 
  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. ^ "Ziggy, Bull Elephant That Spent 30 Years in Cell, Is Dead at 58". New York Times. 1975-10-29. p. 32.  line feed character in |work= at position 9 (help)
  15. ^ Recktenwald, William (1988-08-15). "Brookfield Zoo Mourns Olga the Walrus' Death". Chicago Tribune. p. 3. The walrus, captured in the wild off Norway in late 1961, came to Brookfield Zoo in 1962, Elbert said. 
  16. ^ "Gorilla at an Illinois Zoo Rescues a 3-Year-Old Boy". New York Times. 1996-08-17. 
  17. ^ "Bear Grottos". Brookfield Zoo. Retrieved 18 March 2012. 
  18. ^ "Ibex Island". Brookfield Zoo. Retrieved 18 March 2012. 
  19. ^ "Miscellany: Apples". Time. 1935-09-30. 
  20. ^ "Big Nosed Baby Rhino Born at Brookfield Zoo". Chicago Daily Tribune. 1941-10-09. p. 3. 
  21. ^ "Rare Okapi Is Born At the Brookfield Zoo". New York Times. 1959-09-18. 

External links[edit]