Brookfield Zoo

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The Brookfield Zoo is located 14 miles west of downtown Chicago in the suburb of Brookfield, IL. This 216-acre park offers a large array of animals, habitats, and programs designed to promote conservation and awareness while providing families with a fun excursion. Since 1934, the Brookfield Zoo and the Chicago Zoological Society that run it have been offering residents and visitors to the Chicago-land area a first class experience while also promoting education and conservation efforts nationwide.

History

The story of the Brookfield Zoo begins in 1919 when local Chicagoan Edith Rockefeller McCormack, daughter of John D. Rockefeller, donated the first 118 acres of land in Brookfield to the Cook County Forest Preserve District to be developed as a zoological garden. The land had been a wedding gift from her father.

The land sat as is until another 98 acres was added in 1921 and the Chicago Zoological Society was formed. Then, construction of the park proper was delayed until 1926 and then further prolonged because of the events of the Great Depression. However, at long last the completed structure opened to the public on 1 July 1934 to immediate positive effect. In fact, over 1 million visitors had been to the zoo by the end of September that same year.

In the decades that followed, the Brookfield Zoo, also known as the Chicago Zoological Park, grew exponentially in its offerings and focus. The 1950s welcomed the addition of the children’s zoo, veterinary hospital, and the now-famous central fountain, named after President Theodore Roosevelt. Then, in the 1960s, following a period of relative decline, a bond from the Forest Preserve District revitalized the zoo, making room for additional expansion that would make Brookfield Zoo among the tops zoological parks in the world. Among these additions was the addition of the United States’ first fully-indoor dolphin exhibit. Then, in the 1980s, Tropic World, which was the largest indoor zoo exhibit in the world. This indoor rain forest simulation was the model for the construction several similar setups across the U.S. and the world in the coming decades. Brookfield is also known for housing North America’s first giant panda, Su Lin, who came to the zoo in the 1930s and has since been taxidermied so she could be displayed in Chicago’s famed Field Museum of Natural History.

In the 21st century, the Brookfield Zoo has continued to grow and spread its influence around the country and the world. The Chicago Zoological Society has been noted worldwide for its conservation and education efforts and the zoo itself is particularly known for its sitatunga antelope breeding program. The CZS offers a targeted Master’s degree program through the zoo in teaching (MAT) and zoology (MA). It also hosts extensive teacher resource programs and workshops meant to help spread the message of science, environmentalism, and conservation into the K-12 classroom. The park also maintains a close partnership with the local high school, Riverside Brookfield High School, located right next door, through the SEE (School of Environmental Education) program.

Main Attraction

There is literally more to do at the Brookfield Zoo than one day’s time will allow. For that reason, visitors are encouraged to plan their visit ahead of time in order to ensure that they get to see what they want. Some of the most popular attractions include the Dolphin Presentations, the Motor Safari, Wild Encounters, a behind-the-scenes tour of off-exhibit areas, and the Hamill Family Play Zoo.

In addition, the zoo is home to over 2,300 animals, representing 450 species. The zoo itself is broken up into thematic areas such as Baboon Island, Feathers & Scales, Aardvarks, Hoofed Animals, Pachyderms, and Stingray Bay. Dining and shopping options are also available throughout the park.

The zoo is open every day of the year from 10am-5pm. Admission to the zoo is separated into Adult (12+), Children (3-11), and Senior (65+) categories and doesn’t include any “extras” such as the dolphin presentations or Motor Safari. Military personnel, active, reserve, and retired, are admitted free every day and Free Admission days are common during the off-season (November through March).

Why It’s a Must-See

The Brookfield Zoo has a long and wonderful history of providing a great blend of education, conservation, and fun to humans and animals alike. As the largest zoo in the metropolitan Chicago area, it is a great place to spend the day with children young and old.

Where to Buy It

There are a number of ways you can enjoy admission to this attraction.

1. Purchase a ticket from the Brookfield Zoo when you get there.

2. .  .

3. Purchase as part of a money saving package. Popular examples to the right.

4. Purchase a Tourist pass. The Brookfield Zoo is available on the Go Chicago Card.