Penguin (and Polar) Plans

There are plenty of details to share about the next new exhibits at Lincoln Park Zoo, but let me just start by saying that those of you who have missed penguins are going to be very happy.

The zoo hasn’t had penguins since the closing of the aging Kovler Penguin-Seabird House in 2011. But we’re going to welcome these waddling waterbirds back in 2016 with the construction of a new penguin habitat! Located next to the Kovler African Savanna at Regenstein African Journey, this outdoor exhibit will be home to more than a dozen African penguins.

The new penguin habitat will provide an immersive outdoor home for African penguins.

The new penguin habitat will provide an immersive outdoor home for African penguins.

In the wild, these non-polar penguins inhabit the rocky coastlines of Africa’s temperate southernmost coast. As a result, they’re adapted to outdoor living during Chicago’s summers and winters.

More than a dozen penguins will swim and play in a large pool backed with vegetation and rocky “cliffs.” In consultation with the African Penguin Species Survival Plan®, we’ll also have a dozen nest boxes behind the scenes to accommodate future breeding pairs—and hoped-for chicks. It should be a dynamic exhibit, one that encourages the natural penguin behaviors we all enjoy.

The penguin pairs will have nest boxes for breeding behind the scenes

The penguin pairs will have nest boxes for breeding behind the scenes. Photo by iStock.

The penguin habitat isn’t the only new project in the works. We’ll also be creating a new, immersive polar bear habitat just to the north, one that will replace the current Polar Bear Plaza.

With its 266,000-gallon pool for Anana to swim in, Polar Bear Plaza was state of the art when it was built more than 30 years ago. In the time since, though, we’ve learned a lot about the best ways to meet this powerful predator’s needs. Accordingly, the new exhibit will include some of the underwater views visitors love, but it will also feature twice as much land as water.

The new polar bear habitat will replicate the Arctic predator's native landscape

The new polar bear habitat will replicate the Arctic predator's native landscape. See larger version.

Beyond that, the new polar bear habitat will be built for two! Split exhibits will offer plenty of living space…and the possibility of cubs down the road. Male and female polar bears need to be separate after breeding, so the new environment is being designed around that possibility, much like our Harris Family Foundation Black Rhinoceros Exhibit.

The expanded habitat will provide space for two polar bears and possible cubs.

The expanded habitat will provide space for two polar bears and possible cubs.

The polar bear habitat will include multiple viewing shelters as well as an “ice cave” near the glass where the bears can cool off on hot summer days. These new habitats will replicate the full range of these carnivores’ natural habitat, from pools to shoreline to tundra vegetation.

Construction on the new polar bear and penguin habitats will start this fall, soon after the completion of Regenstein Macaque Forest. Roughly 45,000 square feet of habitat will be transformed, at a projected cost of $22 million. These exciting new additions to the zoo should be complete in spring/summer 2016. I’m looking forward to them already, and I’ll certainly keep you informed as work proceeds.

Kevin Bell


Great. Now all you will need

Great. Now all you will need are DOCENTS to to explain what this is all about.

Shame on you for taking education out of the zoo

Marty Polin

Re: Education

We no longer use the name "docents," but education occurs every day at the zoo, with dozens of educators and volunteers introducing guests to the zoo and the wonders of wildlife. We recently wrote articles looking at both the education team and our dedicated volunteers.


Glad to see the zoo keeps moving forwards with its exhibits. That is why LPZ is still my kind of zoo!

We're Glad to Hear It!

We're excited too--and we think visitors are going to be very excited when they see the new exhibits!

Penguins and Polar bear exhibit

Great news. Proud to be a volunteer at the zoo.

Thank You for Your Comment

And thank you for volunteering too! We're very excited about the upcoming exhibits.

Penguins and polar bears

Will there be an indoor viewing area to see them?

Great Question

There will be some sheltered viewing areas, with roofs, but none will be fully indoors. In a way, the visitors and the animals will share the same environment!

Excited about the new exhibit!

I'm very excited for the new exhibit! While I enjoyed Kovler Penguin-Seabird House for years and will miss it's charm. this is a great solution for both animals' futures at the zoo and looking forward to when it opens! In particular it's great to see how far the zoo has come in updating these thirty-year-old exhibits - and I'm happy to see the zoo will be able to breed polar bears again, too!

I'm a little curious as to how this exhibit will fit into the zoo right now - as the new penguins are African, will they tie into the nearby Regenstein African Journey at all? I'm assuming the new Polar Bear exhibit will be built over the existing one and the new Penguin exhibit over the "Bear Line" -- will the Sun Bear, Spotted Hyena and Andean bears be moved to other locations in the zoo or removed entirely? Are there future plans for any of them?

I know a lot of the more seasoned zoo-goers are concerned about confusion about casual zoo-goers assuming the polar bears and penguins are from the same habitat but I'm confident Lincoln Park will find ways to emphasize the habitat differences, especially as these are a penguin species from the more tropical climate, rather than the tundras the Polar Bear calls home.

Re: Excited About the New Exhibit

Thanks for your comment--and some great questions! As you note, we do plan to link the African penguins with Regenstein African Journey...and we will be careful to note that these penguins and polar bears share very different habitats.

You're pretty much spot-on with the space use, although the new polar bear exhibit will extend over part of the current McCormick Bear Habitat as well. The current "bear line" residents will be moving to homes at other accredited zoos; indeed, our Andean bear and spotted hyenas have recently moved to new homes.

We're excited for the changes too, and we look forward to sharing more as the exhibit develops!

What is the status of the

What is the status of the upcoming penguin exhibit? Still in the works? When is it expected to be completed by? Will you be hiring more staff to take care of the penguins?

Penguin Update

The Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove is under construction--you can see the latest update from President and CEO Kevin Bell here. The building is slated to open in Fall 2016. We'll have to pass the staffing question on to our Animal Care experts, but we'll certainly have the staff necessary to provide the best in care.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <img> <div>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may insert videos with [video:URL]

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.