Brookfield Zoo's newest attraction, Great Bear Wilderness,
evokes a National Park-like experience from the moment visitors
approach the 7 ½-acre exhibit on the West Mall, where they are
practically walking with the bison.
Watching them run across their grazing fields or stare down at
you from atop their bridge makes a much more powerful impact than
their old enclosure.
Video by Liz Hoffman
Photos by Jason Geil
Plus, the zoo has added two 1-year-old bison, amping up the
herd's energy level. Like all of the animals in the exhibit, the
bison can be seen from multiple viewing areas, including some
windows that allow lucky visitors to go almost eye-to-eye with
these great beasts.
The "eye-to-eye" nature of the exhibit's design is actually its
most exciting feature, especially when you come to the grand
attraction, the bears. You can view grizzlies and polar bears from
both indoors and out. Stand a couple feet away to watch them
through eye-level openings or go inside to watch them swim and play
through windows. Keepers can rotate the bears among three separate
habitats, giving the bears ample opportunities to explore and play
in different environments.
They also really seem to enjoy interacting with visitors.
Inside, we watched a grizzly paw at people's noses through the
viewing glass as he tumbled through the water. Outside, we watched
a polar bear training session through a giant window. As my sons
approached the glass at the end of the session the bear jumped at
the window, showing off his great height and reminding my children
that he's a wild creature, not a playful puppy.
Great Bear Wilderness provides a new habitat area for the zoo's
bald eagle as well as a new raven. The popular "Wolf Woods" have
also been incorporated into the exhibit. What holds all of this
together is the iconic nature of all these North American animals.
As part of the journey, visitors will come across beautiful
graphics explaining the symbolism of these animals, along with
information about habitats and conservation efforts. My sons loved
jumping among the painted "ice flows" when viewing the polar bears.
It's an obvious teachable moment, but since much of the exhibit is
dedicated to conservation, including frequent "You Can Help"
messages, it makes a lot of sense.
Great Bear Wilderness is free with zoo admission. The zoo is
open every day of the year.
Alena Murguia lives in Berwyn, Illinois along with her husband and three growing sons.
See more of Alena's stories here.
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