Lincoln Park is located right on the shore of Lake Michigan, a few miles North of downtown Chicago. It is surrounded by high-density city neighborhoods. Part of the park is this free zoo, which occupies a relatively small site for a relatively extensive collection. Due to the easy access for such a large population, the grounds are very active with visitors, many of whom seem to be strolling through and uninterested in the animal exhibits. This casual visitation appears to result in a wider cross-section of society than normally seen at zoos with admission charges (or free ones that are set in large parks further from high-density areas). Several buskers were performing for change the day I visited. A farmers market in the park nearby explained the multiple plastic bags of vegetables being carried (and tossed) around. An army of docents seemed to be on the lookout for visitors feeding or harassing the animals. If all this sounds like the exhibits get lost here, they do not; it is a nice zoo and the proximity of its exhibits creates an intense experience. It started in 1868 with two swans, and today is a combination of historic zoo architecture mixed with modern exhibitry. The grounds are arranged in a haphazard combination of themes directly adjacent to each other which is not unpleasant but is rather chaotic. I found a relatively complete timeline of the zoo so I will skip around and describe each facility according to its original building, keeping in mind that most of them have been renovated several times since opening. Sea Lion Pool was closed and being refurbished when I visited, so I did not see it; I understand it was last renovated in 1999, and built in 1969 to replace one that was built in 1889! It will once again contain gray seal once it is finished. Landmark Café is a small octagonal food stand built in 1899 and appears to be the oldest facility still standing. Bird House was built in 1904 and is a brick structure with a formal pediment flanked by eagle statues at its entrance. It was last renovated in 1991, and its interior does not resemble its original design; instead, a looping path in a generic modern simple style winds through alcoves that reveal 9 small exhibits and one medium walkthrough flight room. The small exhibits are in rooms behind glass or wire and have attractive foliage contained within walls with realistic murals according to each exhibit’s theme. It is a clean fresh presentation but not especially impressive or memorable, with a small collection. The first 5 small exhibits are: Island Grove, with Cape thick-knee, green woodhoopoe, and emerald starling; Tropical Forest, with fairy bluebird, lesser green broadbill, red-legged honeycreeper, and Jambu fruit dove; Seashore, with American avocet, red knot, piping plover, and black-necked stilit; Forest Edge, with Nicobar pigeon, bleeding heart pigeon, and tawny frogmouth; and Wetland, with snowy egret, scarlet ibis, hooded merganser, and white-bellied stork. Tropical River is the medium walkthrough flight room at the far end of the building and is the best one, with thick jungle foliage and a rocky waterfall and stream that flows beaneath a pedestrian bridge. It is entirely skylit from a peaked roof above and contains yellow-thraoted laughing thrush, inca tern, sunbittern, emerald starling, Nicobar pigeon, pheasant pigeon, mandarin duck, white-lined tanager, crested wood partridge, golden-breasted starling, and red-capped cardinal. After exiting, the path passes the other side of the Wetland exhibit seen previously before going to the rest of the small exhibits: Tropical Forest, with Guam Micronesian kingfisher; Deep Forest, with Blythes hornbill; Mountain Clearing, with kookaburra and masked lapwing; and Riverbank, with Bali mynah. Lion House is composed of a large long brick building with decorative brick accents on its pediments at each end; inside is a formal tile-lined gallery crowned by a massive barrel vault that creates a large and echoing volume for the irritatingly traditional small caged rooms within. It was built in 1912, and most recently renovated in 1990; fortunately, there are outdoor yards for some of the inhabitants and they are arranged on each long side of the building. The interior exhibits do have some naturalistic elements inside and are behind vertical wire instead of bars, but are still too cramped and outdated. The worst exhibits are a series of 5 identical spaces on one side of the gallery that are for warm-climate cats: jaguar (currently has access to two of these adjoining rooms), serval, Amur leopard, and black leopard. The other side of the gallery has two similar-sized exhibit rooms, one for African lion, the other for Amur tiger. They both have access to their own rocky-walled and moated yards that are of average size and detail, with natural substrate and grass and small trees. On the other side of the building are outdoor exhibits in the locations that should be for outdoor yards for the indoor warm-climate cats previously mentioned; instead, there are 5 more exhibits, making this the most intense and crowded big cat complex I can recall. The two exhibits on the ends of this row of 5 are contained within round steel-and-wire habitats backed by rocky walls, one for puma and one for Afghan leopard, also called Persian leopard and one of only four in the US according to ISIS. Between these two are the other 3 caged exhibits with rocky back walls, for snow leopard, red panda, and Pallas cat; the last two are fairly nice for their species. Any future renovation of this house, short of demolition, should focus on turning the exterior exhibits back into yards for the interior prisons behind them. African Lion Exhibit in Lion House: Park Pavilion currently contains a café but was originally built in 1923 as the Aquarium. In 1930 the fish were transferred to the collection of the Shedd Aquarium nearby and it became the Reptile House. I am not sure when its exhibits closed but it became this café in 1998. It is a red brick peaked-roof formal building with decorative fish and turtle and frog details in stone and fishscale grillework in some arches. Primate House occupies the building that was originally the Small Animal House (and still says so at the top of its formal stone-and-brick entrances) which was built in 1927; at some point it became the home for monkeys, and was most recently renovated in 1992. It is an indoor set of 8 small room exhibits behind glass, each filled with various branches and some simulated tree trunks and contained within walls covered with realistic murals. All are below average exhibits, and only one has an outdoor yard. The exhibits are for: pied tamarin; black-and-white colobus monkey and Allens swamp monkey; white-cheeked gibbon (this is the one with an attached outdoor yard contained in a long tall cage); Bolivian gray titi monkey; black howler monkey and Goeldis monkey; DeBrazzas monkey; Francois langur; and Geoffroys marmoset. Primate House entrance: Farm-in-the-Zoo opened in 1964 and was last renovated in 2002; it is actually a short walk away from the rest of the zoo in Lincoln Park and I did not go inside, but when passing it appeared to be a…farm. Of course, it is the contact area for domestic animals. Waterfowl Lagoon and its connected Swan Pond and Flamingo Habitat occupy a central location of the property that is rather precious roomy real estate in comparison to the size of the zoo. It is a free-form waterway crossed by a bridge and surrounded by trees and a rather lush informal but manicured garden. It was opened in its present form in 1978 and partially renovated in 1997 and 2003. In 1979, a low round concrete building called the Crown-Field Center opened, with a round pavilion reached by curved ramps on its upper deck. It was for education and administration offices. It still exists today, but it was renovated in 2001and the pavilion removed; in its place is the Endangered Species Carousel, the only ride at the zoo. It is covered with a striking white peaked awning that extends over the surface of the deck which still contains offices below. Penguin and Seabird House shares the same style of low 1970’s modern concrete structure as the round office building just mentioned, and was built shortly after in 1981. Inside is a short dark exhibit path that views two average rocky exhibits behind glass, with above- and underwater views. The first is for king, chinstrap, and rockhopper penguins, while the other is for tufted puffin, razorbill, and common murre. 1982 was a big year for additions to the zoo, and the Antelope and Zebra Area dates from that time. It is a roughly oval layout of hoofstock yards of average size surrounding a long brick barn which is mostly concealed by the simulated rocky walls that compose the back and sides of the yards. Viewing is entirely across moats into the grassy or dirt yards dotted with trees, and it is a standard but pleasant complex devoid of chainlink fencing except for small low ones that add extra containment at the top of some of the moats but do not block the view. There are 10 yards: two for white-lipped deer, an empty one between them that may be for them as well, two for Sichuan takin, one for red kangaroo, one for Bactrian camel, one for sable antelope, one for alpaca, and one for Grevys zebra. The Bear Habitat also is from 1982 and features three rather narrow rock grottos viewed from across concrete- walled moats for sun bear and two for Andean bear; each has a small pool and grassy and rocky yards with a few fallen logs. There is also a larger exhibit for polar bear, which has the same style of rocky containment but unfortunately has all-rocky ground too, a rather small land area. This exhibit does have a large deep swimming pool with an underwater viewing window; while the dry part is simulated naturalism, the pool itself is a wide blue moat contained within angular concrete walls with a decidedly architectural look. All four bear exhibits are only average. Using the back wall of the Bear Habitat for containment of one its yards, the former Large Mammal House was built at the same time, a combination of outdoor yards and an indoor path through their holding areas. It was renovated in 2003 and renamed African Journey, and is now an immersive exhibit inside. Outside, the rockwork-walled yards that surround the building mostly appear as they did when first built, and match the style of the Bear Habitat next door and the Antelope and Zebra Area as well. The outdoor yard that connects to the back of the Bear Habitat is a mixed-species one for giraffe, Grants gazelle, and ostrich; it is viewed across moats on both sides of it as well as from a window area of the building described later. Nearby are 3 adjacent yards for black rhinoceros; I understand that the two with large steelpole and cable fencing were for elephants at one time. There are two adjacent yards with more obvious modern detail outside and they are nice: one for African wild dog, and the other for warthog. Where they meet, there is a net fence between them, so that they can stare at each other rather closely. The rest of the exhibit is indoors, experienced on a one-way path that begins in a lobby entered through a peaked red brick archway next to the warthog exhibit. The lobby is small and has some graphics about the continent and a view into the jungle of the first exhibit that is entered after going into a half-round hut with more introductory graphics. The first exhibit in the naturalistic jungle is a small walkthrough flight room for Hadada ibis, Abdims stork, spoonbill, and Hottentot teal. Netting separates the birds from an equally sized exhibit behind them for black-and-white colobus monkey; their potion of the room is more architectural, beneath a round peaked skylight and filled with branches and a large stump. Although it is an average exhibit, it seems brighter and roomier than the one for the same species in the Primate House. After exiting the bird room through a rustic doorway, an immense simulated tree trunk is entered with glass viewing into a nice habitat for African dwarf crocodile; their habitat is open to the hidden skylit ceiling above and buttress roots hang down into their rocky pool and log-strewn beach area. A waterfall spills into the pool as well, which is swarming with unidentified white and yellow fish (cichlids?). It is a very nice scenic exhibit! The viewing area travels into a darker hall of more simulated tree trunks to encounter two of the best insect exhibits I have seen. One is behind a floor-to-ceiling curved glass panel imbedded in one of the massive trunks: inside is a realistic hollow crawling with hissing cockroach, bathed in dim red light. Nearby is a memorable exhibit for Madagascar golden orb spider; between two massive trunks is a mural of a grassy plain and sky, and the spider web strung between several branches in front of the mural appears to have no barrier. Also nearby is a large simulated termite mound with a cutaway for viewing a display about these insects and a tunnel for kids to crawl through it. The path then emerges into the jungle below the skylights to see a display with a hut perched above that interprets Cameroon before it enters an exposed riverbank tunnel to enter the viewing area for the pygmy hippopotamus exhibit. This exhibit features above-and-underwater viewing windows and bench seating for looking into the nicely detailed but small watery exhibit filled with fish, contained with riverbanks and backed by more indoor jungle. It is a good exhibit for viewing but a poor one for dry land area. The exhibit theme shifts to drier climates here, as the path exits the riverbank area into a rustic shelter with views behind wire into an exhibit for klipspringer and black-masked lovebird. It is a small dark area but has plenty of rocky detail and multiple levels and is dominated by a tree trunk with plenty of perching room. If the lovebirds start squawking, I feel sorry for the little antelope! A round hut-like room is then entered, with windows looking out to the outdoor giraffe exhibit described previously. Then the path enters a rocky skylit room with small exhibits behind glass railings on each side: one for aardvark with a termite mound and cave, and one for meerkat with a fallen log for perching. They are not fantastic exhibits as far as size goes, but I thought it was interesting that the meerkats can be allowed to enter the aardvark exhibit through a tunnel beneath the walkway once the aardvark goes behind-the-scenes. Also interesting is that the meerkat exhibit is backed by an opening in the rockwork to view the giraffe indoor holding area behind it, which is decorated to look like a simple boma. The last exhibit before exiting the building is a dark hallway with a long aquarium for Lake Malawi cichlids; it is fine tank with a rocky backdrop and many specimens, and ends a nice themed interior experience. African Dwarf Crocodile Exhibit in African Journey: Birds of Prey opened in 1989 and is a simple grouping of 3 steelpole and wire enclosed cages. By far the largest is for cinereous vulture and white stork, while the two smaller are for bald eagle and snowy owl. All three are backed by rocky cliffs and have trees inside and out, but the two latter ones are too small for much flight. Gateway Pavilion was opened in 1995 and is a brick and glass building with a round tower attached to it that acts as a visitor services area near one of the entrances. Small Mammal and Reptile House opened in 1997 and is a fairly nice two-part display, with a large angular architectural dark room with many wall displays separated in two areas for mammals and reptiles followed by an immersive large bright conservatory room with naturalistic exhibits of both types of animals. The darker gallery reptile area has an oversized model of a gecko in the center, surrounded by 10 side-by-side wall exhibits behind glass with average detailing. 4 larger adjoining room-size exhibits with better naturalism are nearby, for Dumerils ground boa, Mexican beaded lizard, Aruba Island rattlesnake, and dwarf crocodile; all are nice and viewed behind large curving glass panels. The darker gallery mammal area has an oversized fennec model in the center, surrounded by 6 very dark side-by-side wall exhibits behind glass that are too small and of average detail, for: sugar glider mixed with brush-tailed bettong, La Plata three-banded armadillo, small Madagascar hedgehog tenrec, bushy-tailed jird, pygmy slow loris, and lion tamarin. Nearby is a more naturalistic mammal exhibit area with a dwarf mongoose habitat behind a curved glass panel; inside is a nice simulation of a termite mound and dry rocky landscape, and the ground rises steadily in the exhibit until it is above a series of small windows into a tunnel system for naked mole rat and a rocky terrarium for Kenyan sand boa. Also adjoining this exposed mound area is a small dark room behind glass for Egyptian and straw-colored fruit bats that also rises over the naked mole rat and Kenyan sand boa habitats. The last exhibit in the dark gallery is a cave-like small habitat behind glass for sand cat. The exhibit path then exits through a door into a more naturalistic rocky jungle-like passageway skylit from above, which is in the large conservatory room. The first exhibits are behind glass with partial underwater views for the pools that front them: one for Asian small-clawed otter and Prevosts squirrel, one for spectacled caiman, and one for dwarf caiman and giant guapote (a fish) and white-faced saki. Following these are two more adjoining, with the same glass frontage and covered with wire above: one for black howler monkey and green aracari and one for Hoffmans two-toed sloth and cottontop tamarin. 3 drier style exhibits in small yards behind glass railings follow, for radiated tortoise, red-footed tortoise, and Patagonian cavy, and then one behind glass for Parma wallaby. Finally, a massive simulated trunk is seen with several windows revealing leaf cutter ants in one part and Chilean flame tarantula in another. A stairway leads up to a balcony with an overview of the lush jungle planting beneath the skylights, and exhibits below. This complex does not have very roomy exhibits but nearly every one is a nice highlight of the species presented, even if the relationship of these two different groups is not always illuminated clearly. Exhibits in Small Mammal and Reptile House: 1999 saw the opening of another modern brick building for visitor services, this time a gift shop and café called Wild Things inside an undulating long form with curvy awnings above; a more traditional formal peaked assembly would have been a better match to the historic buildings, although it is certainly more compatible in material than the poured concrete of several of the 1970s buildings. The Center for African Apes is a massive modern angular stone-faced building with a single large two-story volume inside for viewing 3 indoor bedrooms behind tall glass for 2 exhibits of gorillas and 1 of chimpanzee; all three have a fair amount of simulated tree trunks and branches as well as stylized bamboo poles inside, and expansive glass views of their outdoor yards. The larger gorilla yard is viewed from several outdoor areas around its perimeter, including a small stone-faced shelter that matches the main building and has windows for close views; the other viewing is from across moats. Their habitat is dominated by a group of simulated tree trunks and exposed roots in the center of a grassy hill. It is the best habitat of the three, since the other gorilla yard and chimpanzee yard are contained within large steel and wire structures. They are also viewed from several spots, and their habitats are similarly detailed, but the use of cage rather than moat makes them less attractive. It was built in 2004. Gorilla Exhibit and Building in Center for African Apes: The Childrens Zoo has apparently been in its current location since 1959, but its 2005 renovation seems to have little in common with whatever it was before, so I include it here as the latest facility. It is a North American themed section; although it does not have an extensive collection, the habitats are mostly above average and it strikes the right balance between play and education. Adults can enjoy this facility and its outdoor exhibits without really feeling like they are in a kid-focused area. The single entrance is announced with a sign and graphics mounted on a circle of bright poles within a stone circle; native trees surround the walkway, which leads to four outdoor habitats. One of them is for red wolf, a tree-covered grassy yard with a dry streambed that is viewed from several windows set into a chainlink fence around it. Near the windows is a wolf howl play element. Next is a fenced habitat for black bear, with several trunks and logs emerging from a lush landscape of bushes and rocks and a swimming pond, also viewed through windows or chainlink along its generous length. A log element that crosses the barrier provides a crawl space for kids separated with glass from the bear, and a scent play element is nearby. There are also two rocky exhibits with streams and ponds and multiple viewing areas with glass railings for beaver and river otter. They are nice exhibits too, and can also be viewed through underwater windows from each end of a building between them. The building is a modern one and is the central play space; it features a glass curtain wall on one side, letting in plenty of light to illuminate a two-story space with a very unique crawl structure that fills its volume. The play structure is composed of curved wood panels suspended by wires from a ceiling to form a complex multi-level path; it is entirely visible for parents yet thrilling for kids. At the base of its length are scattered terrariums on bright patterned pedestals that feature Great Plains rat snake, garter snake, Eastern box turtle, common walking stick, Eastern fox snake, and American toad. Nearby are two small glass-walled habitats for Eastern screech owl and American kestral, and there is also an odd habitat behind glass near the beaver indoor view for Blandings, painted, spotted, and wood turtles. The problem with these small indoor exhibits is their proximity to such a potentially crowded and frenetic play area; the terrariums must suffer from a lot of jarring collisions! Beaver Exhibit in Childrens Zoo: It is hard to argue with the free price of this zoo, which gives access to such a nice collection housed in such a variety of enclosures, many of them average to above-average. I rank it at number 33 of the 55 zoos I have visited. For themed exhibit complexes, African Journey is number 46 on my list and for individual reptile exhibits the African dwarf crocodile exhibit in African Journey is number 15. I have posted additional photos in the gallery.