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Brookfield Zoo Review of Brookfield Zoo

Discussion in 'United States' started by geomorph, 23 Jun 2010.

  1. geomorph

    geomorph Well-Known Member Premium Member

    28 May 2009
    Newport Beach, CA, USA
    Warning: this is a long review! If interested, grab a seat and your souvenir animal-head sippy cup!

    Brookfield Zoo is a very large zoo (216 acres) with an extensive and comprehensive collection 10 miles West of downtown Chicago that was opened in 1934. It still contains a large number of its historic features, some of which are Mediterranean Revival-style exhibit buildings; in fact, counting the newer exhibit buildings, I believe there is more indoor space here than any other zoo I have visited. However, it is not an entirely indoor experience; there are plenty of outdoor exhibits as well, and the roomy grounds allow for leafy interludes between many of the facilities. The primary layout of the zoo is a formal cross composed of two axes which meet in the center with a large round pond and fountain; the facilities are mostly located in the quadrants formed by the axes, with a larger area and more attractions in the West quadrants. Both axes are composed of several straight walkways lined with trees and large lawns. The shorter of the two is the North-South axis, with a zoo entrance with formal gatehouses on each end and a carousel in the middle toward the North Gate. There are also a few visitor services buildings and exhibit buildings that face this axis. The longer is the East-West axis, whose two sections are the East Mall and West Mall; this one is terminated by the Safari Grill at one end and the new Great Bear Wilderness exhibit complex (described later) at the other. This static organizing principal lends a feeling of grandeur to the grounds and helps this large zoo to be more navigable for the visitor. My review will skip around the grounds, describing each exhibit complex or building in approximate order from the oldest (although many have been renovated over the years) to the newest. I did not visit the Family Play Zoo or Childrens Zoo, both of which are additional admission. I also did not visit two seasonal exhibits that were not yet open, one for butterflies in a small netted quonset and the other for stingray petting in a tent set up on the lawn of the East Mall that is a visual fiasco. The Seven Seas was temporarily closed for renovation, so I did not see it either: it is an indoor dolphin pool and arena with underwater viewing.

    The grand North-South Axis viewed from the South Gate:

    Reptile House has been closed for several years and is a low Italianate building similar in style to many of the others. The most recent masterplan of the zoo called for its demolition, but preservation has prevailed and it is currently being renovated to be the headquarters for the conservation programs.

    Feathers and Scales (probably not the original name) is a formal building with a simple large one-room interior. It has been lightly renovated, and houses a sparse collection of bird exhibits on the perimeter and reptile and amphibian exhibits in the center, all covered by a high curved ceiling painted with a blue sky dotted with clouds. The bird exhibits on one side include small plant-filled habitats behind wire for Victoria crowned pigeon and blue-faced honeyeater, keel-billed toucan, and Micronesian kingfisher. There is also a stand-alone small standard octagonal cage devoid of plants for sun conure which does not match the others. The other side of the room is filled with one large skylit flight room viewed behind wire for Southwestern U.S. birds with very nice desert theming for curve-billed thrasher, masked bobwhite quail, Gila woodpecker, burrowing owl, white-winged dove, Gambels quail, and roadrunner. I did not note the reptile and amphibian species, but they are housed in 25 average wall terrariums set within two square-walled blocks in the center of the room that do not extend up to the historic ceiling, being added features to the original room. The frames around the bird exhibits and doorways are sleek art deco streamline style, indicating a change in fashion during the zoos 8+ years of initial construction, that do not match the Mediterranean theme of the exterior. Also attached to the backside of the building is a large flight cage with minimal detailing for Andean condor.

    Perching Birds (originally just Birds) is another small original building that has a weak set of exhibits. Inside is a long gallery of tiny exhibits behind glass, framed with circular windows that make the views into each restricted. There are 20 of these, as well as about 8 slightly larger ones without the circular frames. Thankfully, a majority of them are empty as they transition from bird displays to small reptile displays, which will make renaming the building a necessity. This gallery leads to a second room that is far more successful: an average medium-sized skylit room filled with plants for tropical birds, which is viewed from a long balcony perched above the ground. I did not note the species other than scarlet macaw.

    The Swamp is another old formal building, but its interior has been extensively renovated into an attractive winding immersive exhibit path that does not resemble the original facility. It is full of dark artificially-lit exhibits, with several skylit exhibits in its center; throughout are a combination of simulated cypress trees interspersed with rustic themed architecture to recreate a swamp of the Southern U.S. The first exhibit is Egret Pond, a medium-sized bird exhibit behind netting full of cypress trees and knees and a small boat for a prop. It contains snowy egret, green heron, and little blue heron. It is atmospheric but would be better with skylighting. Next is snake ridge, a set of four small terrariums set on simulated exposed swamp banks, for siren, red-bellied water snake, cottonmouth, and Eastern box turtle. Alligator Overlook has two exhibits in the skylit center of the building, including an average one for American alligator next to a nice netted habitat for white ibis and double-crested cormorant. Both are primarily water environments with trees and logs rising above. The next area is Slice of the Swamp, a dark alcove in the forest that begins with a simulated hollow in a massive tree for big brown bat that seems too small. Nearby are two nice medium terrarium exhibits, half water and half above-water; the first is for red crawfish, predaceous diving beetle, and giant water scavenger beetle, and the second is for Southern painted turtle, chicken turtle, green anole, green tree frog, and sunfish. Three side-by-side terrariums follow, for least shrew, rough green snake, and indigo snake. A small simulated shrimp shack next to them has a counter for docent staffing, and a small window nearby looks into a second American alligator exhibit which is located behind the first and is a similar average quality. Swamp Fest is an area of educational graphics pinned to roughsawn walls of a porch, with a nearby swamp boat on dry ground whose benches can be used to watch a video tour of the swamp that plays on a screen at the bow. Next is Old Sawmill, a series of several small rooms that recreate an abandoned cypress sawtown, complete with a fictional historical sign and milling equipment. It is a cultural theming showcase, so should be avoided by those who abhor such things in zoos! Inside are small wall terrariums for wolf spider, black widow spider, lubber grasshopper, Northern walking stick, wood rat, marbled salamander, and American toad. There is also an average terrarium on a wood-framed pedestal for corn snake, and a sad small wire cage draped with fishnet for Eastern screech owl. A porch of the sawmill has a view into another medium bird exhibit that shares the swampy center skylit area of the building, for: great egret, wood duck, Northern flicker, pied-billed grebe, cardinal, green heron, hooded merganser, blue-winged teal, and redhead. This nice exhibit also has another rustic viewing shelter called Bird Rest Stop a little further on the path. The last exhibit area diverges from the theme but is related: it is the Illinois Otter Marsh and makes a connection to the upper watershed that eventually reaches the swamp. There are three side-by-side dark naturalistic exhibits here, set in a dark simulated riverbank behind high glass railing: an average habitat for river otter, a small pond for largemouth bass and bluegill and black crappie and longnose gar, and a small pond for alligator snapping turtle. A final display before the building exit discusses other wetlands. Although none of the exhibits are fantastic, the total experience and collection is very effective in conveying the region. The mix of animal types is typical of the zoo, and makes the leftover collections and exhibits in Feathers and Scales and Perching Birds that much more outdated.

    Egret Pond in The Swamp:

    The Fragile Desert is one interior part of a historic complex composed of a long tall formal building with two separate immersive indoor complexes and an outdoor complex of historic grottos attached to it. The Fragile Desert is the most successful of the three, and is very atmospheric (and a bit creepy) although the dim artificially-lit habitats are not very good for most of the residents. Once inside the formal pediment entrance, the interior does not resemble the original facility. Much of the exhibit path here is covered by a long desert tent structure, and interpretive graphics along the way are printed on papyrus-like cloth signs with Arabic style lettering. The inhabitants are mostly small carnivores from the arid regions of Africa and the Middle East. It starts with a sandy cave that opens up to a room exhibit behind a glass railing for meerkat and African crested porcupine, with several levels of sandy banks and backed by a large wall that vaguely appears to be a bright dusty sky. Sharing this room is an adjacent exhibit that is larger, for bat-eared fox, viewed from a sandstone bank behind mesh. This viewing area is also topped by the tent and contained within sandstone walls, so that the view of the very artificial environment is controlled. The groundplane of the fox habitat rises away from the viewing area, and beneath its tallest part is a nice naked mole rat exposed tunnel system next to the path. The path then enters a dark cave with a camel skull before emerging in a large rocky cavern crossed by a bridge with a habitat on each side. Together they form a unique exhibit environment: one side is for rock hyrax, the other for caracal. It is a delight to watch the hyrax make use of their precarious footholds on this near-vertical face; it is depressing to imagine the caracal stuck in this pit. The path then enters another longer cave, complete with a human skull (perhaps the designer of the caracal exhibit?) and hieroglyphs before reaching a small den behind glass for fennec fox; they are also seen in an adjoining dim rocky desert scene that is their main exhibit space, viewed from a gap in the cave with no obstruction. Nearby is a tiny cave behind glass for dwarf mongoose that is too small. The cave then exits to another passage covered by tent, and two side-by-side small room exhibits behind glass for black-footed cat with sandstone walls. The exhibit path ends here and exits the building, and entry to the adjacent interior exhibit that shares the building is all the way on the other side.

    The Fragile Rain Forest is the other interior exhibit complex of the Fragile Kingdom, and it is rather weak. It attempts to be an immersive path sheltered by a rustic timber walkway through a simulated Asian forest, but it misses the mark. It is very dark and artificially lit, similar to the desert theme in the other half of the building, but its viewing opportunities are too obscured by the tree theming and its exhibits are too harsh. The first exhibit is a mixed-species one for binturong, Prevosts squirrel, and Asian small-clawed otter, viewed behind mesh; it has a concrete floor with a shallow stream that can not be very satisfying for the otters. Next are two poorly-detailed average wall terrariums for giant millipede and Chinese newt, followed by a small room behind glass for Burmese python. Two medium side-by-side habitats are viewed through mesh and a lot of trees, for clouded leopard and fishing cat. The leopard exhibit is successful in the case of its size being difficult to determine, and appears to have enough climbing branches on several levels, but ultimately it is a dark interior cage. The fishing cat habitat is more open, but this makes its boring rocky-walled containment and tiny pool more apparent. Next are four more poorly-detailed average wall terrariums for rain forest plants, rosy barb, giant prickly stick insect, and tokay gecko. Finally, a small dark aviary behind mesh features white-crested laughing thrush.

    The Fragile Hunters is the complex of 5 historic rocky grottos attached to the building. They are average size and detail for their time, with natural substrate and grass and trees added. One contains 2 exhibits of snow leopard, separated by a mesh fence attached to the mesh covering over the grotto. Another is also mesh covered and is the smallest, for Amur leopard. The three in the middle are uncovered and are for African lion, sloth bear, and Amur tiger, each with a small pool. The bear exhibit also has several clumsy timber climbing structures.

    The former Bear Grottos are now empty but still visible; their inhabitants have been moved to Great Bear Wilderness. They are a series of 5 historic side-by-side rocky habitats with no natural substrate. Their historic nature, being among the first of their kind in the U.S., probably indicates they are here to stay even if they are vacant. With such a large property, there is no urgent need to utilize their space.

    Australia is a low historic building with a slightly immersive exhibit path inside and several outdoor yards attached. Inside begins with an outback mural in a small lobby and a small terrarium for Whites tree frog. Three average medium wall terrariums start the next room, set in an outback shed, for shingleback skink, bearded dragon, and Eastern blue-tongued skink. Then a small room backed by a mural is viewed through mesh that contains a few trees for scarlet-chested and princess parrots and a sandy desert floor for short-nosed echidna; I love to watch them waddle! Then three more medium wall terrariums follow, for cane toad, Solomon Islands prehensile-tailed skink, and green tree python. Exiting the shed, the next room is much larger and darker, supposedly set outside in a partially rocky landscape with murals and trees; it is not at all convincing, with much of the unadorned ceiling structure plainly visible. Here, there is a small very dark room exhibit for tawny frogmouth, next to three exhibits for Southern hairy-nosed wombat, one of the few places to see them. They have been successful in breeding here, although I doubt their exhibits have anything to do with it! The first two exhibits are adjacent small yards that are almost entirely circled by the exhibit path surrounded by low railings. They are far weaker compared to the larger exhibit across the path that is more naturalistic and not surrounded by people. Next to this last one is a fairly large habitat for Rodrigues fruit bat that visitors walk through on one side; it is a rocky and branch-filled flight room that is quite dark as well, with many inhabitants. Exiting the building, there are outdoor yards surrounding it: a small rather ugly fenced yard for double-wattled cassowary is the first. The other three are more attractive and larger and feature moats with low fencing in front and outback-themed fencing to contain their sides and backs, with rolling grassy slopes dotted with trees. They are for Western gray kangaroo, emu, and a mix of both in the largest one that is the best exhibit in this complex.

    Pachyderms is yet another historic building, this time a large long one entirely surrounded by large rocky yards; its interior is temporarily closed but the exteriors are occupied. It has an average African elephant yard contained with steel pole-and-cable fencing to replace the moat that still exists in front of the viewing areas for all the rest of the exhibits here, and has a large simulated baobab tree in a flat sandy groundplane. There are 3 black rhino yards, 1 for pygmy hippo, 1 for lowland tapir, 2 smaller ones that are unoccupied, and a hippo yard with more detail than the others that includes a large two-part pool contained within a simulated riverbank and shaded by trees. All offer good viewing for average-sized exhibits.

    Black Rhinoceros Exhibit (one of three) in Pachyderms:

    Hoofed Animals is a long boring alley of rectangular yards with little detail, located along one edge of the property. All have rather dry slopes and few trees; their groundplanes end at walls below the straight viewing areas, and their sides and backs are mostly plain fencing occasionally interrupted by small outcrops of simulated rock. Most have a visible small holding shelter in back, and a service road is behind. Beginning at one end, they are: 2 for Bactrian camel, 2 that are now empty but were most recently for bison, 1 for Grants zebra, 2 for addax, and 1 for Grevys zebra. In addition there are 2 or 3 beyond a recent barricade that now closes off access to the Salt Creek Wilderness Trail described later; I could spot the sign for the closest one, and it was for Grevys zebra as well.

    Baboon Island is a massive single outdoor exhibit for Guinea baboon that is surrounded by walkways on all sides of its rectangular layout. The rocky railings are interspersed with glass ones for easier viewing for shorter statures; the railings are all above a dry moat for containment. Rising up from the moat is a scenic composition of rockwork and simulated dead tree trunks that eventually towers over the height of the viewing area in the center of the exhibit. The problem with this exhibit is its lack of natural substrate or pockets of real plants; it is one big ode to concrete. It does have pockets of shade formed by the rocks and moat, and surrounding mature trees in the visitor area help, but reflected heat must get intense in hot weather. It is undoubtedly memorable and offers good viewing of the baboons.

    Speaking of massive and memorable, Tropic World is one of the largest zoo exhibit buildings in the world, although it probably has one of the largest volume-to-inhabitants ratio of any interior exhibit complex, meaning that it is not exactly brimming with creatures. Its exterior is a long harsh rectangular hulk with a simple flat and angled top covered with a brown standing-seam roof and punctured with several large blocks of skylights. It is mostly surrounded by trees, but they do little to conceal its uninviting mass next to the West Mall; it appears to be a corporate office park warehouse rather than a tropical paradise. Nothing about this 1970s architecture indicates an entrance. Instead, a small archway in some trees starts a winding path with some graphics about primates that leads to a small doorway on the front side. Since this is an exhibit focused on primates, a short hallway that serves as a lobby is filled with a series of two-dimensional cutout sets illustrated in a childrens book style with facts about the subject, before the first of three massive exhibit rooms is reached on a one-way exhibit path. The path in each room is at ground level and next to one of the long walls, but the floors of the exhibits are another 20 feet down, resulting in even more space. The path is a naturalistic one with uneven paving and rockwork, rustic viewing railings interrupting raised planters filled with live tropical trees and plants, and plenty of interpretive graphics. After the lobby, a rocky waterfall is either walked behind in a cave or in front on a rustic bridge; this is the start of the first room, South America. Its main exhibit is the room itself, skylit from above with a soaring ceiling, surrounded by tall simulated cliffs with plants tucked in crevices and a multi-stepped concrete floor that features a large shallow pond and is the base for a wonderland of simulated tree trunks and branches. Realistic murals fill in detail on the walls above the three-dimensional features. The largest number of inhabitants are spider and brown capuchin monkeys, and they have a fantastic network of climbing opportunities; what their exhibit space lacks in real plants and substrate and fresh air, it makes up for with space and these features. Also sharing this habitat are giant anteater, Brazilian tapir, and Hoffmans two-toed sloth; I did not see the sloth but it would be easy to miss. The two larger ground mammals were easy to spot, but I did not see them in the same place; I suspect that the ground may be designed so that it is actually separated by some logs and levels but not sure. Closer to the viewing area is a rocky ledge that supports a simulated tree trunk and small area for callimico. It is nice to have a closer view of these tiny primates, and their unenclosed habitat appears to be connected to the larger one beyond. Another nice feature is several ledges above the exhibit path and across the room, connected by simulated vines, which is a separate unenclosed exhibit for tamarins; currently it is empty since the cottontops will be replaced with golden lions. South America is my favorite of the three rooms, filled with more activity and better for smaller inhabitants. It is actually the smallest of the three, but is still massive and memorable, despite the true concrete jungle nature of its materials. Asia is the next exhibit room, with a similar setup to the first. The largest part of it is shared by white-cheeked gibbon and Asian small-clawed otter; the gibbons probably have the greatest brachiation trail I have seen. One end of the large room is a raised terrace surrounded by jagged peaked rocks and filled with more simulated tree trunks, forming a separate exhibit for orangutan which is on the small side. There is also a small hut structure next to the exhibit path, filled with an average exhibit for Northern tree shrew behind viewing windows. Africa is the largest and last of the rooms, and is probably the size of the previous two put together. It begins with a large exhibit with a similar setup to the other rooms, although it has a steeply sloped groundplane toward the back accented with rocks. This one is for mandrill, colobus monkey, sooty mangabey, and red-capped mangabey, which sounds like an aggressive mix. It features more of the extensive tree layout, and has a deeper pool than the others, for pygmy hippo. The other half of the room is surrounded by the exhibit path, which crosses a bridge between the two large exhibits and climbs in gentle steps toward a summit at the back of the building with a great view of the room and its occasional simulated thunderstorm that rains from sprinklers in the ceiling down into the habitats. Near the summit is a small rocky habitat behind glass and topped with mesh that is empty (in the future it will contain red-tailed guenon and looks like a comparatively poor habitat for them). This loop path surrounds a rocky moated habitat with a central terrace crowned with simulated trees for gorilla. It is on the small side and is surrounded by visitors and devoid of plants or soft substrate within, so it is less than ideal. However, with the addition of naturalistic outdoor yards to the exhibits of this building, these could be considered among the best indoor or winter bedrooms for primates! As it is, it is probably a better experience for visitors. It certainly does leave an impression, both good and bad.

    Africa in Tropic World during a simulated thunderstorm:

    Pinniped Point is an above average complex of 4 exhibits; a smaller one for California sea lion connects to a larger one for the same species, while a large one for both California sea lion and gray seal is next to a smaller one for gray seal. The two middle exhibits have a small woodsy underground room between them for underwater views, while all 4 are also viewed from the surface, outside along a winding rocky path with glass railings along one side of them. The rockwork is detailed and backed by conifers, forming a scenic complex, although the poolside islands and dry land areas are smooth surfaces and could be more detailed and realistic.

    The Living Coast is a modern building housing a nice set of interior exhibits that are themed to the South American coastline of Peru and Chile. Before entering it, a large curved tiled plaza is seen, and to one side is a nice splash fountain play area with penguin cutouts scattered behind the rocks that line it. The building itself is a composition of plain round forms fronted by a curved pergola that has depictions of the animals within running along its length. Inside, the one-way exhibit path follows a dark modern hallway route, beginning with a foyer of stylized blue glass walls and ceiling and swirls of shiny metal fish to emulate a kelp forest. Graphics throughout the complex are excellent and several play features along the way add to the fun educational value. The first area is Open Ocean, and begins with a medium-sized abstract wall aquarium for coho salmon. This is followed by a half-round column aquarium featuring animals of the sea floor: sea urchin, brittle star, and 6 species of coral. A large wall aquarium with several kelp strands is deep blue and contains cownose ray, lookdown, blue runner, and spadefish. Two small round wall aquariums nearby are for moon jelly and brine shrimp. Nearshore Waters is the next exhibit area, with the largest aquarium: Kelp Forest. It is filled with more kelp strands as well as a rocky formation, and contains Pacific moray eel, hornshark, Garibaldi, kelp bass, popeye catalufa, halfmoon, and damselfish. It is viewed from a large window as well as a smaller round one. Nearby is a small wall aquarium for lined seahorse. Rocky Shores is the last exhibit area, and its first exhibits are also in the same dark modern hallway path: one is a dramatic wave tank with a periodic surge that thunders down onto an acrylic shield from above, then spills into an open rocky habitat, while the other is a wall tank for tidepool inhabitants. It contains sailfin sculpin, bat star, green and purple urchins, 3 species of chiton, and 4 species of anemone. It is the last of the aquarium exhibits, which are all nicely presented. The path then enters a more immersive area: a rocky room beneath a skylight geodesic dome that recreates the shoreline itself. A cavelike hallway to one side has small exhibits behind glass imbedded in the rockwork for boa constrictor, chinchilla and degu, tarantula, and vampire bat. These are not large exhibits but they are well-themed. The main part of the room is a walkthrough aviary for grey gull and Inca tern, and is also shared with Humboldt penguin. There is a nice pool for them, and rocky low ledges. Rocky cliffs rise from these and have more nesting nooks for the birds. Murals complete the scene on the exposed parts of the walls not covered by rockwork, which is covered in guano. In fact, there is a cultural theme in this exhibit, with interpretive signs and props and a shack and boat to emphasize the reality of the guano mining industry in the region. It is a well detailed exhibit and roomy enough for flight (or swimming) and memorable as well. A final display area in the next room includes alcoves with interpretive graphics and sets that illustrate visitor connections to the coast and includes several small window views into the penguin burrows connected to the previous exhibit.

    Entrance to Rocky Shores bird exhibit in The Living Coast:

    Habitat Africa! The Savannah is a slightly above-average indoor/outdoor complex. Connected to it are two small fenced yards for warthog that are clearly much older than the rest. Nearby is a nice roomy moated yard for warthog, ostrich, and waterbuck with small trees inside its grassy plain and large trees surrounding it. A simulated safari vehicle is also here…you have to have one of these nowadays! A small boma-like indoor shelter has window views into a nice African Wild Dog exhibit with trees and grassy slopes, backed by realistic kopje formations. There are also outdoor viewing areas on other sides of it. Nearby the kopje forms the façade of an immersive indoor exhibit building that is decorated with matching kopje formations in its small rooms. A dark hall with a savannah mural leads to a skylit room with a small rocky exhibit for klipspinger on each side of the glass-railing boardwalk in the center. Free-flying birds perch on twigs around the room: oriole warbler, violet-backed starling, Taveta weaver, snowy-headed robin chat, gray go-away bird, speckled mousebird, and emerald starling. Suspended rope screens in the doorways keep them from flying elsewhere. There is also an alcove room behind mesh for trumpeter hornbill. Another cave-like room branches from here and has small rocky habitats behind glass for dwarf mongoose (better than their exhibit in The Fragile Desert), pancake tortoise and plated lizard, and one empty. Another cave-like branch off the main room has viewing windows for the African Wild Dog exhibit seen previously outside, and the giraffe exhibit to come. The final room in the building is a habitat lined with timber poles and a savannah mural behind: it is the giraffe bedroom. Outside, the giraffe exhibit is nice and has several termite mound feeders and tree-filled grassy space surrounded by a scenic water moat; a rustic tin-roofed viewing pavilion is themed to a ranger station with a sign that proclaims it as Great Rift Valley National Park. There are several outdoor viewing areas around the exhibit perimeter, and nearby is a small low building that is entered to view a small dark exhibit behind glass for aardvark that is nicely decorated with mounds and a nightime mural landscape.

    Habitat Africa! The Forest is adjacent to the previous complex and shares the same quality of exhibits and graphics. It is experienced along a winding path through thick forest and a stream waterway that was dry when I visited. It appears that there are normally fish and mudskipper in different parts of it when filled. Signs at the trail entrance welcome visitors to the Ituri Forest, and four different groups of people who inhabit or visit it will interpret the exhibits to come. The first and second exhibits are shady large yards for okapi and yellow-backed duiker; both are nice, but all the outdoor yards here have wire fencing that is a little too obvious. Next is…guess what?…another interior exhibit building with dark moody atmospheric lighting! Inside is a recreated forest, and first is an average habitat behind glass for dwarf crocodile with partial underwater viewing in its pool. A medium-sized aviary behind mesh and tangles of vines is across from it, and backed by a convincing wall mural. It contains Lady Ross turaco, Congo peafowl, golden-breasted starling, and white-crested turaco. Next to it is a similar habitat for blue duiker. A series of 3 nice medium wall exhibits behind glass are nearby, for chameleon, hingeback tortoise, and ball python. Finally, an indoor bedroom for okapi is seen, which is only glimpsed through a series of vertical timbers set closely together with thin gaps to create privacy; the back wall of the exhibit is also covered with a dark landscape mural to further the atmosphere. Before exiting, a small alcove features interpretive graphics and props of an okapi research station in the forest. Back outside, the second okapi yard is seen; it is similar to the first and is the one connected to the bedroom just seen. There is a third okapi yard behind the building that is only clearly seen from the Salt Creek Wilderness Trail described later. Next is an average grassy and shady fenced yard for a rare sight: forest buffalo. Enjoy while you can! Only a few zoos have the last captive ones in the U.S. Next is a larger fenced yard full of dusty and muddy wallows for red river hog, viewed from a small rustic stucco shelter. The trail then goes through an interpretive path called the Mbuti Way of Knowing Trail filled with simulated props including a leaf shelter, fish trap, buttress root, tree hyrax, and more. It is a detailed ending to the complex and wraps up the human connection to the forest established at the beginning.

    Okapi bedroom in Habitat Africa! The Forest:

    Great Bear Wilderness is the newest themed exhibit complex, opened in May 2010, and is a North American journey from Yellowstone to the Yukon. It is located at the terminus of the West Mall, in the location of the historic Ibex Mountain exhibit that was demolished. It begins with a large yard for bison, the symbol of the zoo and zoological society. Their exhibit terminates the entire width of the West Mall and is first viewed from across a low rock-lined moat and rustic split-wood railing that does not obstruct the view. The grassy field rises away from here and is punctuated with several dirt wallows, and backed by a series of simulated rock outcrops which partially contain the back of their enclosure. Paths for visitors branch off from this front view and loop around the large habitat, most of which is contained by green steel pole-and-cable fencing; the paths are not adjacent to the fence, but visitors can step off them into informal mulch areas to approach it. The right path goes past their holding area and low building, which is a poor location for such a practical facility near a major walkway; young plantings in front of it hold the promise of concealment in the future. This path also passes a new timber-and-stone restroom building which fits the theme well, but also has a view of the back of the bear exhibits building with its practical and unadorned two-story architecture. Again, the landscape here will eventually hide this ugly feature. The plantings of the complex are very good but it is not yet apparent. Care was taken to preserve some existing deciduous native trees, while a large variety of conifers are designed to create a more authentic experience of the theme. However, the paved paths are generally open to the mulch planting areas adjacent, enabling visitors to enter them and take shortcuts or play; this will be detrimental to the young plants and could create a rather barren landscape. The absence of temporary stake-and-rope barriers along the paths leads me to believe that this loose definition of acceptable walking areas may be purposeful, to eventually appear undesigned, but if so it will be messy. Both side paths around the bison exhibit meet near the back of the habitat; the reason that the ground plane rises in the exhibit is so that it can narrow and cross over a visitor tunnel where the paths meet, and then widen again as it gently drops to a smaller pasture that ends with the woodsy façade of an education building. The simulated rockwork that contains the bison over the tunnel is interrupted over the tunnel entrances, where the cable fencing is used again; if visitors time it right, they may be able to view a bison staring down at them! One tunnel entrance is topped with a sign over its archway announcing the exhibit complex; the other is topped by a short nature quote by Thoreau spelled in large raised letters, a common feature throughout the complex and its excellent consistent graphics. The tunnel itself is not surfaced with the simulated rockwork that frames its entrances; instead, it has stucco walls covered with an airbrush-painted series of stylized bison, as well as two openings in the wall for viewing part of the exhibit. There is also a very large floor-to-ceiling graphic on one wall; each of the species in the complex has one, with full-size paintings and range graphics and other information in a consistent style. Each large graphic is announced not by the scientific or common name of the species, but by a native tribal name, in this case Tatanka, the Lakota word for bull buffalo. Set in the ceiling of the tunnel are a series of speakers that play a recording of a bison stampede! How many hoofstock exhibits are designed with these unique features and attention to detail? It is a successful exhibit and a scenic start to the complex. The path on the left side of the bison exhibit leads to a small plaza surrounded by three buildings for visitor services. One is a shop called Bear Crossing and a medium-sized education room next to it; their building is a rustic timber peaked-roof one with open beam ceilings inside. The shop is woodsy and stocked with appropriate merchandise, while the education room features a viewing window on each side, one for the bison exhibit and one for a polar bear exhibit described later. There is also another small timber-and-stone restroom building, and a counter-service restaurant called Bison Prairie Grill. It is poorly designed; a basic CMU construction with a bit of wood slapped on the front and a low flat roof with all the utilities visible on top. Its dining area is all outside in a large expanse of mulch filled with traditional picnic benches around an existing chaotic play structure area that seems like extreme value engineering. This is not the fantastic National Park lodge-themed restaurant with an expansive view overlooking the prairie that it should be. At least it serves buffalo burgers! The plaza leads to the one-way loop exhibit path called Great Bear Wilderness Trail that composes the rest of the complex, entered beneath an attractive stone-and-timber archway with a map graphic and topped with a Pacific Northwest native depiction of a bear. The first exhibit seen here is a steel pole-and-netted medium aviary for bald eagle (the largest graphic announces it as Beshknew, the Potawatomi word for the species), viewed from one side. It is dominated by a simulated branched tree trunk rising from a grassy patch and is too small for much flight. If the inhabitant is an injured bird that will not be returned to the wild (as is the case with many similar exhibits for this species) then it is larger than many I have seen; if not it is a poor design. Eventually it will be shielded with vegetation on all sides except the viewing side. Next is the best exhibit in the complex; ironically it is a slightly older one that has been incorporated along the trail, called Wolf Woods. It is a massive fenced yard for Mexican gray wolf, filled with grassy slopes and trees and a few rocky perches, and its backside melts into the surrounding forest. It is viewed from several small spots on two sides, as well as an indoor shelter with a curved glass window area. Also within this small building is an exhibit alcove, a rocky den with windows for kids to crawl in, and a video monitor to see remote views of the exhibit via controllable cameras. A door also leads into a 10x10 foot room in darkness for a 2-minute audio show called Call of the Wolves, which is rather spooky! Back outside, a mulch-surfaced open area is the Kill Site, with metal lifesize silhouettes of four wolves attacking a deer as well as interpretive graphics about the subject and a simulated deer skeleton. Next to this is a mulch area contained with a circle of logs that form the Naturalist Outpost, for very small education presentations. The other existing zoo feature that has been incorporated into this new complex is Salt Creek Wilderness; it is a beautiful 20-minute loop trail through the native woods around Indian Lake and to Dragonfly Marsh. There are no captive animal exhibits along its course (except a back view of several of the exhibits in Habitat Africa – The Forest) but native sightings are common and there are plenty of interpretive graphics along the way. The entry to it is now a branch off the Great Bear Wilderness Trail; a former entry from the older hoofstock yards at the North of the zoo is now barricaded. The rest of the new complex is a series of three medium similarly-sized bear exhibits contained within high rocky walls and connected to a massive building for both viewing and holding. The first exhibit seen is currently for grizzly bear; the map at the beginning of the trail identifies it as for polar bear, but the graphics at the exhibit itself are correct. I understand that the bear exhibits are designed for either species according to the needs of the collection, especially since the zoo has a good polar bear breeding record. The first view of the grizzly bear exhibit is through a tall window imbedded in the rockwork; etched onto its upper surface is another nature quote. Next to the window is a door that can be opened, with wire behind it, for training demonstrations. The habitat itself has several alcoves between the rocks, natural substrate, grass, fallen logs, an attractive rocky swimming pool, and some brave young trees; a nearby wide viewing area sees it from across a deep moat whose steep sloping face is too stark. Nearby is a similar viewing area for the first polar bear exhibit, of similar size and quality. A large graphic here announces the species as Pisugtooq, the Inuit word for great wanderer. Between these two viewing areas is the entry to the building, which is a flat woodsy façade with another Pacific Northwest native depiction of a bear over its doorway. Unfortunately, this and several other places where the building is exposed are rather clumsy transitions between architecture and simulated rockwork; the architecture should have been more detailed or the rockwork should have been allowed to entirely cover the building. Once inside, the large two-story volume is a plain modern interior, dominated on each side by large windows with above-and-underwater views for the grizzly bear pool on one side and the polar bear pool on the other, which features a sunken viewing area for added capacity. It is a successful space with plenty of room for crowds to watch any play in the two attractive pools; the only decorations are several large framed photos of the species, a large wall display about the region represented, and another about ways that people can help the species. A tall but narrower hallway leads from here with a breaking iceflow graphic on the floor into a rocky-walled alcove that has a viewing window into a small rocky den of the third exhibit, which is currently for polar bear. I assume that this will be used for a mother and cubs display in the future, if the occasion happens. Exiting the building, another large graphic is imbedded in the rockwork walls that surround this outdoor passage, this time for Nitakyaio, the Blackfeet word for grizzly bear. Currently there are no grizzly bears exhibited near the graphic, which supports the fact that the exhibits can be used for either species. A nearby viewing window imbedded in the rock and framed with massive timbers looks into the first polar bear exhibit, from the opposite side as first seen, making this the exhibit with the greatest viewing opportunities of the three. Next is a small window into the second polar bear exhibit (the one with the rocky den), followed by a longer open viewing area across a moat. This exhibit is similar to the other two, although it has a waterfall (one of those out-of-nowhere illogical ones) and its swimming pool is in the center of the space with no underwater viewing. The path ends here, at the plaza where it started; currently, a wood railing funnels visitors into the Bear Crossing gift shop to exit out its front side, but in the future when crowds become less common this could be removed to allow free flow (it helps to have enforced one-way traffic while the complex is new). Although the bear exhibits are glorified grottos, they are much more open feeling than old grottos; however it is disappointing that they are not the impressive best-of-their-kind habitats that they could have been. Despite this, the complex is a great addition to the zoo and a good replacement for the now-empty former exhibits for these species!

    Brookfield Zoo may not have many exhibits that are the best of their kind, but it is very impressive as a whole, filled with a wide variety of experiences and a very comprehensive collection in mostly average to above-average enclosures, some of them quite unique. I spent 2 full days here and thoroughly enjoyed it! I rank this zoo at number 13 of the 55 zoos I have visited (I admit the staggering quantity of exhibits ranks it higher on my list), and I rank the Living Coast aquarium parts at number 36 of the 43 aquarium facilities I have visited. For themed exhibit complexes, Habitat Africa! is in my top 50 at number 46 while Great Bear Wilderness is number 50. The only individual exhibit to make my top lists is South America in Tropic World for small mammals, at number 25. Adult admission is $13.50 and is underpriced by $2.50. I have posted additional pictures in the gallery.
    Last edited: 23 Jun 2010
    amur leopard likes this.
  2. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member

    1 Dec 2007
    Abbotsford, B.C., Canada
    I agree with most of this exhaustively extensive review. As you correctly pointed out there are not really many truly top-class exhibits at Brookfield Zoo, but there are many good ones and I do agree that it is still probably one of the top 20 zoos in North America. The animal collection and overall experience is wonderful, but the zoo does still need a number of improvements to aging animal habitats. From countless photos the bear exhibits in the new "Great Bear Wilderness" are average at best, and quite disappointing in terms of expectations.
  3. Shirokuma

    Shirokuma Well-Known Member

    1 Sep 2009
    Thanks for another detailed review, I've printed it off and added it to my collection!
  4. team tapir

    team tapir Well-Known Member

    29 Jun 2010
    cleveland oh usa
    Going on a baseball trip through Chicago and Milwaukee with some friends and am going to make them hit up the Brookfield Zoo today :)

    Marty of Team Tapir