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.
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 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.
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 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.