Whether you visit Brookfield Zoo for the first time this year or have walked its paths countless times, you can always find something new. This summer is no exception. With new exhibits, the return of favorite animals and more interactive opportunities scheduled to make their debut, kids of all ages will find plenty of educational fun.
The opening of Great Bear Wilderness allows visitors to get right in the faces of bears, bison, wolves and birds. Visitors get an up-close view of animal behaviors indoors or out. Kids won't want to miss going hand-to-paw with great grizzlies as the bears tumble and splash in one of two pools in the underwater viewing area.
"Great Bear Wilderness presents a lot of complex ideas, especially about ecological systems and conservation. Interpreters are there to break down those messages into ways kids can better understand them," says Andre Copeland, Brookfield's interpretive programs manager.
For example, a child can use refrigerator magnets to represent an ecosystem and discover what happens when you remove one component, such as the wolf.
You may also witness a bear training session. These sessions allow visitors to see zookeepers in action; plus, the chance to see a polar bear stand at full height is amazing.
Great Bear Wilderness is free with zoo admission.
video by Liz Hoffman
Opening Memorial Day weekend, more than 40 cow-nose rays will return to shallow pools of Stingray Bay. In its third year, this May-September exhibit allows visitors to see and touch live animals. "Cow-nose rays are best suited to meet our guests' expectations since they move continuously through the exhibit and tend to be curious. It's more likely to be a touch experience for visitors," Copeland says.
Heading north, Butterflies, the zoo's tented butterfly experience, is also scheduled to open by Memorial Day. With its natural sunlight and vibrant, colorful flowers and butterflies, this is a great spot for a quiet, serene experience. Budding photographers will love trying to capture more than 30 different species of North American butterflies. Hold very still and you might become the landing site for one. Copeland reminds visitors not to touch them, though. "Even the lightest finger stroke can damage the delicate scales of their wings."
Stingray Bay, Butterflies, Children's Zoo and Hamill Family Play Zoo all have ticket pricing in addition to general admission. Tickets can be purchased individually or through an All-in-One ticket for the day.
After a six-month visit in Minnesota, Brookfield Zoo's dolphins are back. Topeka, her two daughters and a new friend named Spree are all enjoying their renovated digs at Seven Seas. Dolphin shows are scheduled to resume around Memorial Day and audience members might notice new scenery and a new flow to the show.
"Attitudes, behaviors and even pop culture have changed the way we view dolphins. The new underwater viewing area reflects that history," Copeland says. The zoo has also added more modern technology.
While underwater viewing is free with zoo admission, Dolphin Shows are ticketed separately. Show times and ticket prices are posted at all ticket counters.
Zookeepers and Zoo Interpreters are busy throughout the day making the zoo a more enriching experience. Copeland shares some of his secrets for surprising experiences:
If you visit The Living Coast in the afternoons, you might be lucky enough to witness the hand-feeding of the exhibit's Humboldt Penguins, which usually happens between 3:15 and 3:45 p.m. Likewise, you're most likely to find keepers working with the animals at Pinneped Point either 20 minutes before or after a Dolphin Show.
If you see an interpreter with a cart, animal skins or a bug box, stop a minute to listen and touch. You never know what you'll learn during your visit.
Alena Murguia lives in Berwyn, Illinois along with her husband and three growing sons.
See more of Alena's stories here.