Polar Bear and Penguin Press Materials

Lincoln Park Zoo Announces Polar Bear and Penguin Habitat Plans 

Construction begins Fall 2014, new habitats slated to open Spring/Summer 2016 

Chicago (March 19, 2014) — Visitors to Lincoln Park Zoo will soon hear the pitter patter of happy feet – penguins are returning to the zoo! The zoo is sharing its plans to develop a new open-air habitat for endangered African penguins. Polar bears will also get new, expansive digs the zoo announced today. It will demolish the current 32-year-old polar bear exhibit to create a larger state-of-the-art home in its place. Work is slated to begin this fall and the new habitats are projected to open sometime in spring or summer 2016.


The new project will replace exhibits that currently house polar bear, sun bear, Andean bear and hyenas. These animals will be moved to other Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited zoos beginning this summer. Demolition of the area will begin in the fall, following the opening of the zoo’s new Regenstein Macaque Forest and Lionel Train Adventure.


The $22 million project is expected to create 160 new jobs, and will completely transform the northeast section of the zoo more than tripling the amount of land for polar bears.


Polar Bear Habitat

Polar bears are not only popular with zoo visitors, but they are also increasingly threatened in the wild due to the impact of climate change on the Arctic. The zoo plans to expand the current polar bear exhibit in order to accommodate a breeding pair of bears, with the goal of future bear cubs to boost the population of this threatened species.


“Polar bears have a long tradition here at Lincoln Park Zoo,” said Steve Thompson, PhD, senior vice president of capital and programmatic planning for the zoo. “We are committed to caring for polar bears and have so for 130 years.”


Thompson explained that when the current polar bear exhibit was created more than 30 years ago it was considered state-of-the-art at that time by providing the bears an immense 3,000 square-foot swimming pool. More recent biological and behavioral research collected on the bears has revealed a wealth of new information about polar bears.


“The new habitat is being designed based on the latest scientific research which indicates more land is better than water-dominated space,” explained Thompson. “Lincoln Park Zoo has always been a leader in animal care and welfare and will continue to use science to guide our plans to ensure we provide the most enriching environment possible for wildlife while also enhancing the guest experience and providing new and novel opportunities for visitors to learn about animals at the zoo.”


The new habitat will provide not only ample access to water, but more land space with softer substrate and a variety of terrain to give the animals a more diverse environment. The landscaping will be modelled on the Arctic tundra, mimicking the animals’ habitat in the wild.


Lincoln Park Zoo guests will have multiple views of one of the world’s most fascinating species as they tower above on rocks, swim in the pool, or take a rest in the comfort of a frigid ice cave.


Boulders will provide opportunities for bears to climb to new heights, and a cascading waterfall will feed a stream that flows into the main pool. The engaging habitat will offer zoo visitors stunning nose-to-nose views. A den will also be included in the habitat allowing mom to stay with her cubs in quiet comfort much like the wild.



African Penguin Habitat

Back by popular demand, Lincoln Park Zoo will once again be home to penguins. This time, African penguins, an endangered variety, will call the zoo home. It is estimated that there are only 55,000 of the birds left in the wild. The zoo has a successful history of producing African penguin chicks. The new habitat will allow the zoo to once again contribute crucial aid to the population of this endangered species.


The warm climate species of penguin lives exclusively on 24 islands along the southern coast of Africa. The new zoo habitat will open with approximately a dozen penguins and will be able to comfortably house two dozen adult penguins and chicks. The flightless bird will be able to dive and swim in the cool waters of a large pool and lounge on the expansive sandy beach that is reminiscent of their natural environment.


A large viewing shelter with a floor-to-ceiling window will offer split-level views so all zoo visitors will be able to see the animals waddling on the rocky shore and gliding under the water.


The entire site will be extensively landscaped using trees, shrubs and other perennials that fit the respective ecological themes for each exhibit. Buildings associated with the new polar bear and penguin exhibits will feature ecologically-friendly green roofs. Both exhibits will offer zoo visitors year-round viewing of these species throughout summer and winter.


Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the nation’s only free admission, privately-funded zoos. This non-profit institution is managed by The Lincoln Park Zoological Society. The zoo’s annual operating budget is approximately $24 million, with one fifth funded by the Chicago Park District. The remainder is raised through donations from individuals, corporations and foundations, and revenues from programs, memberships, parking fees, facility rentals, corporate sponsorships, and on-grounds concessions.


The zoo plans to provide regular updates about the exhibit projects via its website and social media platforms. Visit www.lpzoo.org to learn more about exciting programs, events and animals at the zoo. You can also find the zoo on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lincolnparkzoo and follow the zoo on Twitter @lincolnparkzoo. Coming Fall 2014 – Regenstein Macaque Forest and Lionel Train Adventure!



Media Contacts

Sharon Dewar
(312) 742-2246





Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, a historic landmark founded in 1868, is dedicated to connecting people with nature by providing a free, family-oriented wildlife experience. A leader in conservation science both globally and locally, the zoo exemplifies the highest quality animal care and educational outreach. The not-for-profit zoo, managed by The Lincoln Park Zoological Society, is a member-supported organization and one of the nation’s only free, privately managed zoos. For more information, call 312 -742-2000 or visit www.lpzoo.org.




Polar Bear Enjoying Snow (225MB .mp4)