The Chicago Zoological Society on Jan. 1 quietly closed the
Children's Zoo inside Brookfield Zoo, ending the 60-year run of the
While the closure is noted on the society's website, officials
never announced the closure of the Children's Zoo, because future
plans for the area have not been finalized.
"Children's Zoo has closed in preparation for a renovated
exhibit that will connect our guests with wildlife and nature in a
very personal manner," said Sondra Katzen, media relations manager
for the Chicago Zoological Society in an emailed statement in
response to questions by the Landmark. "The new attraction will
provide an emotionally rich experience as guests of all ages
observe, feed, and touch some never-before-encountered mammals,
birds, reptiles, and amphibians."
The zoo's strategic plan, adopted in 2004, called for the
Children's Zoo to be expanded, building on the success of the
Hamill Family Play Zoo, located immediately to the west. However,
it appears that whatever replaces the Children's Zoo will be
something quite different.
Now that the Children's Zoo is closed, almost the entire
southeast quadrant of Brookfield Zoo is available for development.
The Chicago Zoological Society closed the old Bear Grottos in 2010
when the animals were relocated to the Great Bear Wilderness
exhibit on the west side of the zoo.
The Children's Zoo occupied about 3.4 acres directly south
of the Bear Grottos and was reached by crossing a footbridge over a
man-made creek. It cost another couple of dollars to enter the
Children's Zoo, which was otherwise shielded from view to zoo
Once inside, visitors experienced something quite different than
what they encountered in the zoo proper. The Children's Zoo
afforded up close and even hands-on encounters with smaller animals
During warmer months, children would crowd around a
demonstration area where handlers would describe various creatures
and then walk around the area, allowing audience members to pet the
animals and get a closer look.
A big draw to the Children's Zoo was the farm, complete with a
big red barn and outbuildings that housed cows, llamas, chickens,
pigs, goats, horses and sheep.
According to Katzen, the Chicago Zoological Society has found
new homes for those animals at farms and with individuals. Other
animals that could be found in the Children's Zoo, such as the
birds of prey - including a bald eagle - remain part of the zoo's
collection, although they are currently off-exhibit.
The Children's Zoo opened in August 1953 to a crowd of several
thousand people, according to Let the Lions Roar!, the
history book published by the society in 1997.
Seed money for the exhibit came from a man named Charles Ward
Sudbury, who pledged $35,000 after experiencing the children's area
of the London Zoo.
When it was complete, the Children's Zoo cost $95,000, and it
turned out to be something of a practical and maintenance problem.
Because the Children's Zoo displayed smaller animals, including a
baby Kodiak bear, lion cub and elephant, zoo officials were faced
with the prospect of having to continually replace them as they
Let the Lions Roar! also indicates that construction
and maintenance costs at the Children's Zoo were more expensive
than initially thought. Eventually, state legislators OK'd an
increased to the zoo's tax levy to account for the costs, and the
zoo began charging for admission to the exhibit.
This article first appeared on ChicagoParent.com's sister website RBLandmark.com.
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