Brookfield Zoo is one of America’s oldest zoos and has a history of innovation that is nearly unmatched. Nestled just outside Chicago, Illinois, Brookfield Zoo has a long list of “firsts” that no other zoo in the nation can match and continues to be at the leading edge of animal conservation, recreation, education, and scientific study.
History of Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield Zoo’s story begins in 1919 when Edith Rockefeller McCormick donated 83 acres of land, given to her by her father, to the Cook County Forest Preserve District with the goal of constructing a modern zoo for the people of the Chicago area. In 1921 the Chicago Zoological Society was established to oversee the zoo and the district added 98 acres to the zoo project. Construction of Brookfield Zoo began in 1926 after a zoo tax was approved by residents, but the stock market crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression slowed construction until late 1931. A frantic pace resumed in 1931 and the zoo was ready to open its doors on July 1, 1934. By the end of September that year one million people had visited the zoo and the zoo’s four millionth customer passed through its doors two years later.
The zoo now covers some 216 acres of land and offers visitors a look at nearly 2,300 animals from roughly 450 different species. The Cook County Forest Preserve District still owns the zoo today and the Chicago Zoological Society still manages the zoo.
A History of Firsts
Brookfield Zoo has been at the forefront of zoological creations and science since the day its doors opened. The zoo was the first of its kind to use moats, ditches, and other natural barriers to separate the animals from guests and one another instead of cages. Brookfield Zoo was also the first zoo in America to have Giant Pandas on display. In the 1960s, Brookfield Zoo was the first to open a dolphin aquarium located entirely indoors. In the 1980s, the zoo opened the first fully enclosed tropical rainforest exhibit. In addition to its history of firsts, some of the zoo’s most notable residents have made national headlines. Some of these residents include:
- Ziggy, a 6.5 ton bull elephant remained in an indoor enclosure for nearly 30 years after attacking a trainer in 1941. He was released to an outdoor enclosure amid much fanfare in 1970 but died in 1975 after falling into the ditch surrounding his enclosure.
- Alpha, a 47 year old female Western lowland gorilla died in 2009
- Affie, a 40 year old female African Bush Elephant died in 2009
- Christy, a 29 year old African Forest Elephant also died in 2009
Current State of Brookfield Zoo
During the first decade of the 21st century Brookfield Zoo underwent several upgrades and renovations to maintain its status as one of the nation’s leaders in zoological entertainment and education. Among the additions to the zoo is a new Regenstein Wolf Woods, the Hamill Family Play Zoo, and in 2010 the Great Bear Wilderness opened. Much like its past famous residents who have passed away, the zoo has some current residents that are nationally known and draw thousands of visitors. Among the current famous residents of the zoo visitors will find:
- Cookie, a Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, was given to Brookfield Zoo on opening day in 1934 when he was one year old. Though he is now off-display, Cookie is going strong at 77 years old.
- Binti Jua, a female Western lowland gorilla, garnered national headlines after a young boy fell into her exhibit on August 16, 1996. Binti Jua cradled the young boy in her arms and delivered him to her trainers.
- Esmerelda is currently the only black spider monkey in North America.
As of 2010, Brookfield Zoo boasts 22 different exhibits for guests to explore. The exhibits include but are not limited to Stingray Bay, Children’s Zoo, Hoofed Animals, The Living Coast, and Tropic World. Many of the zoo’s exhibits are included in the cost of admission, but certain areas like the Children’s Zoo and Dolphin Shows cost extra money.
The best way to experience the Brookfield Zoo is through their membership program. The zoo offers a basic zoo membership and the Family Plus membership. Membership to the Brookfield Zoo includes the following perks:
- Unlimited free admission for one year
- Free parking at the main entrance
- Members-only featured discounts at zoo restaurants and gift shops
- Discounts on admissions to seasonal attractions including the Carousel and Butterflies!
- Discounts on educational programs, special events and lectures
- Free admission for two adults and their children or grandchildren under the age of 18
- One guest on every visit
- Unlimited free admission to Children’s Zoo
- Unlimited free admission to the Hamill Family Play Zoo
- Free parking at the main entrance
Admission, Tickets, and Packages
Brookfield Zoo and the Chicago Zoological Society offer several different ticket packages and deals suitable for individuals, families, and large groups. The best place online to find ticket deals and packages is at the official zoo website (www.czs.org/czs/Brookfield/Zoo-Home). On the official website guests can find the following deals:
- 2010 General Zoo Admission
- All-in-One Tickets: ticket package includes admission to the zoo plus other paid attractions within.
- Admission +3: ticket package includes admission plus up to three other paid attractions within.
- Free admission for military personnel: free zoo admission to military members with a valid ID.
Guests can also go online to museumadventure.org to learn about a collaboration between Brookfield Zoo and several Chicago area libraries and museums that provides free admission to different attractions in the area.
The World Wide Web is not the only place for guests to find good deals on admission to the zoo. Guests can find discounted ticket packages and attraction tickets the day of their visit at the North and South gates of the Brookfield Zoo. Guests can also find information about ticket deals at several Chicago area libraries and museums. Brookfield Zoo has teamed up with many area libraries to offer free admission to the zoo by showing a valid library card through the Museum Adventure Pass Program.