Last month, Lincoln Park Zoo announced that its new habitat, Pepper Family Wildlife Center, will open this fall, welcoming lions and other carnivores back to Chicago.
In addition to a pride of lions, Pepper Family Wildlife Center will be home to Canada lynx, snow leopards and red pandas on the south side of the building.
“We are eagerly awaiting the return of African lions to Lincoln Park Zoo,” said Maureen Leahy, vice president of animal care and horticulture. “The transformation of the building provides a dynamic space for the lions and other species to thrive and will be a place for Chicagoans to support conservation of these vulnerable and endangered species in the wild.”
Thanks to a $15 million gift from Roxelyn and the late Richard Pepper, the zoo broke ground on the $41 million renovation of the lion house in December 2019. The major transformation of the exhibit includes updates to the interior and exterior of the historic building plus an expansive new habitat for the lions.
The original lion house was constructed in 1912 and designated a Chicago Landmark in 2005. The Pepper Family Wildlife Center renovation team worked with the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to preserve, restore, and enhance the architecturally significant features of the historic building.
“With this renovation, the size of the lion habitat nearly doubled and will provide the lions with so many choices! Thermal comfort zones, trees for climbing, elevated rocks to give the lions high vantage points, areas to seek privacy, shade and shelter, and special enrichment features to encourage species-specific behaviors,” said Leahy. “For visitors, the expansive viewing windows provide new opportunities to see these cats up close from both inside and outside the building.”
Design of the new lion habitat was informed by data collected over the last several years on lion behavior, space use and preference, using the Lincoln Park Zoo-created behavior monitoring app, ZooMonitor. The savanna-style lion habitat spans the full northern side of the building and includes intricate rockwork to increase vertical complexity and environmental choices for the lions while providing embedded heating and cooling elements for a climate controlled habitat. Climbing tree structures and deadfall were made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified trees and food zip lines, simulating prey, were installed for lion feeding as an enrichment opportunity.
Guests will have immersive viewing opportunities from both inside and outside Pepper Family Wildlife Center. A unique indoor design element known as the Lion Loop, generously funded by the Women’s Board of Lincoln Park Zoo, enables guests to view the exhibit from the center of the habitat. The new habitat also includes a demonstration training wall where guests can view the lions participating in their own healthcare.
Goettsch Partners is the principal architect and PJA is the exhibit designer for Pepper Family Wildlife Center. Pepper Construction is the General Contractor.
The $41 million renovation of the building is the final phase of The Pride of Chicago, a $135 million capital campaign that began in 2012.