Lions and Tigers and Bears…OH MY! Dorothy may have been frightened by these large mammals, but even she would enjoy a visit to the expansive Brookfield Zoo. The Zoo sprawls across 216 acres, so don’t forget to wear your “walking shoes” or bring along a child to push you in a stroller. Upon entering the zoo saddle up on one of 72 animal figures at the largest non-restored hand-crafted carousel in the country. After singing along to showtunes and making animal noises at the people watching, you’ll be all warmed up for the real thing.
Our first destination is Seven Seas, a newly renovated stadium and home to a few bottle nosed dolphins that love to put on a show. This intelligent species will show you their behavioral mimicry talents while soaring through the air, displaying their sonar noises and wowing you with their acrobatics. Not only is this show entertaining, but also educational: the trainers will tell you about dolphin social behaviors, adaptations and more. In keeping with the underwater theme, our next stop is Sting Ray Bay. Forty cownose sting rays glide through the water in this tropical paradise. And if you’ve ever wondered what one felt like, now is your chance. Plunge into the 16,000 gallon salt water tank, up to your elbows that is, and interact with the rays. Zoo keepers are nearby to answer questions and demonstrate the proper way to touch them.
Tropic world will take you on an journey across three different continents without even having to show your passport. Spider monkeys greet you in South America; spot them as they scamper across the tree tops and keep an eye out for a golden lion tamarin hiding in the leaves. Although seemingly much further on a map, lucky for you, Asia is only steps away. Orangutans take a break from relaxing and inspect mounds of hay, while sea otters splash in the water. Meanwhile, it’s a bird…it’s a plane…. it’s a white cheeked gibbon? These furry little creatures soar through the sky thirty feet above the ground, moving up to twenty feet in a single swing. Our final destination for this exhibit is the African forest. Long furred colobus monkeys and brightly-colored mandrills are among the rare primates you won’t see anywhere else. Around the corner the western lowland gorillas captivate you with their human like tendencies.
The long-anticipated Great Bear Wilderness exhibit is well worth the wait. Two step onto the western front where half a dozen American bison roam the prairie pasture and graze on native Illinois plants. Views of the bison are ideal from the overpass or get up close and personal with this one ton shaggy creature in the “bison bunker.” Next, check out the bear grottoes. Aussie and Arki Polar Bear, along with their cub Hudson, look cute and cuddly — but don’t let their looks fool you, polar bears are the the largest land carnivores in the world! In the underwater viewing area glass is the only thing that separates you from turning into their next meal. Finally along the pathway are the grizzly bears. Their multi-level habitat features a fifteen foot waterfall that spills into three connected pools. Watch as brothers Axhi and Jim play fight and splash around in the water.
Now that you’ve survived a mock tour of the Brookfield Zoo, take a walk on the wild side and visit in person! The Discovery Center Theatre is a great place to map out your personalized adventure. With over 3,000 species you might just find you have a new favorite. I do have to warn you though, that peacocks roam freely, so if you have some underlying fear of these colorful birds you might want to get that checked out before entering the zoo.