What's New at Chicago Zoos: Cute Cubs and a Primate Forest at the Brookfield and Lincoln Park Zoos

The lion cubs; Pesho, Lomelok and Sidai! Photo courtesy of the Lincoln Park Zoo
The lion cubs; Pesho, Lomelok and Sidai! Photo courtesy of the Lincoln Park Zoo
2/23/24 - By Maureen Wilkey

If you haven't spent time at one of the two Chicago zoos recently, get ready for a real treat! With tons of upgraded structures and many new animals at the Brookfield Zoo and the Lincoln Park Zoo, you might end up as excited as you were on your first visit as a kid. To help make your trip the best it can be, check out the latest updates, news, and events happening in 2024. Don't forget to wear your walking shoes because it's going to be a long—and fun—day. 

Looking for more fun things to do with kids in Chicago? Be sure to check out our top indoor playspaces perfect for snowy or rainy days, the best laser tag and paintball spots for kids in Chicago, and, of course, 100 things to do with Chicago kids before they grow up



Chicago Zoos: What's New at Brookfield Zoo

The Dolphins Are Back

Brookfield Zoo's seven dolphins took a 15-month trip to Minneapolis Zoo while their habitat was renovated. They will star in shows starting March 22, with underwater viewing available beginning March 25. The new habitat includes rockwork structures with anchors that animal care staff can attach enrichment items, such as kelp strips and floating objects, and the coolest part is the structures that emit bubbles the dolphins can play in or roll over for play—they can even play hide and seek! 

Guests to the updated dolphin building can enjoy the new decor, meant to mimic Sarasota Bay, where the zoo performs dolphin research, and a new hydrophone system allowing visitors to hear the dolphin's vocalizations. 

The Anniversary Ferris Wheel Opens on March 15

In honor of its 90th anniversary, a 130-foot Ferris wheel will be at the Brookline Zoo until the end of 2024. The attraction will be located just east of the Roosevelt Fountain and will feature 24 gondolas for up to six passengers each, and, to brighten things up, LED lighting will illuminate the wheel during evening hours and special events. The ticketed attraction is $6 for members and $8 for non-members. Insider tip: Members can also use attraction vouchers for the Ferris wheel.

Baby Bears Brookfield Zoo photo by Jim Schulz Chicago Zoological Society Brookfield Zoo 

Two brown bear cubs. Photo credit - Jim Schulz/CZS-Brookfield Zoo

New Brown Bear Cubs Have Arrived

Get ready for cuteness overload! One-year-old brother and sister brown bear cubs Tim and Jess arrived from Alaska in December after being orphaned in Alaska. The Alaska Zoo collaborated with Brookfield so the pair could join Axhi, a 28-year-old brown bear living at the zoo. Weighing in at about 150 pounds each, the Brookfield Zoo has gradually increased the cubs' time in the viewing area since their arrival.

Flamingos Are Now on Display in The Swamp

Did you know the Brookfield Zoo hasn't had flamingos since 1997? When they arrived in October, the nine birds were between five months and two years old, and even now, some of the flaminglets are still grey (their feathers are still developing). The public voted on two of their names and selected Fabio and Fiona, and in 2024, they will be part of Zoo Chats, where keepers explain more about the animal, and programs for the public to watch the birds at feeding time starting in the summer. 

Tropical Forests Is Under Construction

Thanks in part to an anonymous $40 million donation, Brookfield Zoo is expanding its fan-favorite Tropic World building to include an outdoor primate habitat called Tropical Forests. The habitat will house western lowland gorillas, orangutans, spider monkeys, and more, which the public can view through two-story glass windows. The new area will have running water features, climbing structures, grasses, and vines. 

The new structure will also include a Gorilla Conservation Center with state-of-the-art learning space for the public and a dedicated home for the Chicago Zoological Society’s King Conservation Leadership Academy, in which high-school-age students participate in science programming. The project is expected to be completed in 2025, with animals moving in late next year and into 2026.

Koalas and Prairie Birds Are on Their Way for Summer Viewing

Littles will be excited to hear that the Hamill Family Play Zoo welcomes two koalas through a loan partnership with San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and San Diego Zoo’s Koala Education and Conservation Project. Males Brumby and Willum can be viewed from indoor and outdoor locations for free with zoo admission—a first-time opportunity for Brookfield Zoo guests! 

Also coming this summer, the North American Prairie Aviary will house a pair of sandhill cranes and nearly a dozen greater prairie chickens. The new habitat will be within the Hamill Family Play Center, will include a pool to entice the 4-foot-tall regal-looking cranes to demonstrate their beak-probing behavior, and the lush vegetation will serve as a haven for foraging and nesting for the prairie chickens.

A new giraffe calf makes her debut

In late summer, reticulated giraffe Arnieta gave birth to her calf Kinda (rhymes with Linda). Arnieta suffered miscarriages in 2021 and 2022, so zoo staff were excited about the arrival of the new calf after a 15-month pregnancy. Kinda was 6 feet tall and 130 pounds at birth. She is the 60th giraffe calf born at Brookfield Zoo.

The Brookfield Zoo has free admission on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays through February 29!

And you can always check out the zoo's calendar for events like fun runs, concerts, and Brew at the Zoo!

Chicago Zoos: What's New at the Lincoln Park Zoo

Three lion cubs celebrated their first birthday.

Lincoln Park Zoo lion cubs Pesho, Lomelok, and Sidai turned one on January 9. The trio of male lions call the Pepper Family Wildlife Center—built in 2021—home and are very popular on the zoo's streaming network along with their parents Zari and Jabari, brother Pilipili, and aunts Hasira and Cleo.

Hoffmann’s two-toed sloths arrived at the zoo.

Lincoln Park Zoo welcomed Oro and Chispa, a pair of Hoffmann's two-toed sloths, to the Regenstein Small Mammal and Reptile House. The pair arrived from the Philadelphia Zoo with a recommendation for pairing by a Species Survival Plan.

A new zebra foal was born.

Mom Adia gave birth to a 105-pound female Grevy's Zebra foal in August, and she joins dad Wester and an aunt in the Camel & Zebra Area after a 390-day pregnancy.

And remember, Lincoln Park Zoo is FREE!

Some of its events require an admission fee, but there's lots of fun to be had at this popular Chicago zoo. 


Places featured in this article: