Anyone who has missed the up-close-and-personal experience of the old Children’s Zoo at Brookfield Zoo will be able to get the old mojo back — and then some — when the 3-acre Hamill Family Wild Encounters exhibit opens on the same site, July 1.
Think of Wild Encounters as the Children’s Zoo on steroids, featuring opportunities to interact with exotic animals from all over the world — South America, Africa, Australia, Asia and the Arctic.
The $17.5 million exhibit has been in the works since the Children’s Zoo, a family favorite for 60 years, was shuttered in 2013. It features six separate animal exhibit areas, including a 6,500-square-foot aviary where visitors can walk among some of the zoo’s collection of 700 parakeets.
According to a press release issued May 21, the focal point of the exhibit is the Christopher Family Plaza, which serves as an artistic hub, with three kinetic sculptures made of metal and glass. They range from 10 to 14 feet high, with elements that spin and rotate in the breeze.
The plaza serves as an entryway to main animal exhibits within Wild Encounters but will also serve a purpose similar to the old hands-on area at the Children’s Zoo. The plaza is where visitors can interact with the small animals that the zoo touts as their “ambassadors” — including a porcupine, savannah and serval cats, a screaming armadillo, a tamandua (anteater), amphibians, snakes and more.
During bad weather, the encounters with the animal ambassadors will take place inside the nearby Bramsen Animal Ambassador Pavilion, a building the zoo also plans to use as a private event facility as well as exhibit and off-exhibit space.
Fanning out from the plaza are animal exhibit areas that feature various animal “encounters.”
One allows visitors to walk among 25 to 30 climbing, leaping and jumping Nigerian dwarf goats, whom they can feed and groom. Nearby will be alpacas and llamas, and adjacent to them will be a herd of reindeer, walking along the paths accompanied by zoo handlers.
One centerpiece habitat is what appears to be an oversized bonsai tree, created by the Brookfield Zoo’s exhibits crew to house red pandas, which are raccoon-looking creatures native to the Himalayas.
The red pandas will clamber over the 13-foot-tall and 35-foot-wide tree made of steel and concrete, searching for food in nooks and crannies.
The Australian outback will be represented in Wild Encounters by a yard housing more than 20 Bennett’s wallabies and emus, which visitors can feed or simply observe from benches along the winding path.
Wild Encounters’ aviary is one of the largest in North America, according to Brookfield Zoo, and will provide one of the more remarkable interactions for visitors. You’ll be able to purchase seed sticks to lure the birds to alight on your shoulder or finger.
Skylights provide plenty of natural light, and the building is divided in two, setting aside an area for birds only, in addition to the interactive area.
It’ll cost a little extra to gain entrance to Wild Encounters, $5 for adults and $3 for seniors and kids (children under 2 are free). Zoo members pay half price for entry.