Lincoln Park Zoo opens vast lion habitat focused on animal choice

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Lincoln Park Zoo opened its new habitat, Pepper Family Wildlife Center, welcoming lions and other carnivores to Chicago. The $ 41 million renovation focuses on animal choices, from thermal comfort zones for cooling and heating to intricate rock gardens and climbing trees for vertical complexity.

“After years of crafting and using science to transform the Lion House into a state-of-the-art habitat focused on animal welfare and choice, we are delighted to welcome guests to Pepper Family Wildlife Center and celebrate this gift in Chicago. , “said new President and CEO Megan Ross, Ph.D. “Visitors will be able to see this majestic species up close and learn about Lincoln Park Zoo’s conservation efforts to protect African lions in their native range.”

Photo credit: Christopher Bijalba / Lincoln Park Zoo

Thanks to a $ 15 million donation from Roxelyn and the late Richard Pepper, the zoo inaugurated the renovation in December 2019. Pepper Family Wildlife Center is home to a pride of lions, including one male and three females, two red pandas, two Canada lynx and two snow leopards.

The original lion house was built in 1912 and designated Chicago Landmark in 2005. The Pepper Family Wildlife Center renovation team worked with the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to preserve, restore and enhance the significant architectural features of the historic building. .

Photo credit: Christopher Bijalba / Lincoln Park Zoo

“A trip through the Pepper Family Wildlife Center reminds visitors of the zoo’s 153-year-old long history with its historic building elements, such as decorative lion mosaics and the vaulted tiled ceiling,” says Maureen Leahy, vice president of animal care and horticulture. “This new habitat is a shining example of the zoo’s dedication to the care and welfare of animals, while celebrating the zoo’s rich history.”

The design of the new lion habitat was informed by data collected over the past few years on lion behavior and the use of space to understand their preferences, using the behavior monitoring app created by the Lincoln Park Zoo, ZooMonitor. The savannah-style lion habitat spans the entire north side of the building and includes intricate stonework to increase vertical complexity and environmental choices for the lions while providing integrated heating and cooling elements for a climate controlled habitat. Climbing tree structures and dead trees were made from trees certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and food ziplines, simulating prey, were installed to feed and enrich the lions.

Photo credit: Christopher Bijalba / Lincoln Park Zoo

“With this renovation, the size of the lion’s habitat has almost doubled and offers lions so much to choose from! Thermal comfort zones, trees to climb, raised rocks to provide lions with elevated vantage points, areas to seek privacy, shade and shelter, and special enrichment items to encourage species-specific behaviors, ”says Leahy. “For visitors, the large viewing windows provide new opportunities to see these cats up close, both inside and outside the building. “

Guests will have immersive viewing opportunities both inside and outside the Pepper Family Wildlife Center. A unique interior design element known as the Lion Loop, generously funded by the Women’s Board of Lincoln Park Zoo, allows guests to view the exhibit from the habitat center. The new habitat also includes a demonstration training wall where guests can watch the lions participate in their own health care.


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