A Space for Lions, a Gift for Chicago

December 12, 2019

Illustration of Pepper Family Wildlife Center

Written By

Kevin Bell

President and CEO

When Lincoln Park Zoo launched The Pride of Chicago capital campaign in 2012, we had a grand vision for the future of the zoo: a wildlife experience in the heart of the city that nurtures a love for nature; inspires connection to animals; and allows us to practice world-class animal care, conservation, and science—a space that fosters positive welfare and invites animals to practice their natural behaviors. With that in mind, we updated Kovler Seal Pool and built Regenstein Macaque Forest, Walter Family Arctic Tundra, and more.

I am proud to share today that Lincoln Park Zoo has received a very generous gift that allows us to head into the final phases of this ambitious campaign. Thanks to a $15 million contribution from the Pepper family, we have begun to break ground on a new complex at the heart of the zoo: Pepper Family Wildlife Center. With our lion house at the heart of the experience, Pepper Family Wildlife Center will feature a sprawling habitat for lions (with cubs someday, we hope!) and other species outdoors, as well as a community space for wildlife connection and environmental learning indoors.

The Pepper family are longstanding zoo donors, and we are honored to receive this very generous gift that all of Chicago will be able to enjoy, for free, every day. It makes it possible for us to build the world-class lion habitat we’ve envisioned for nearly a decade. At Pepper Family Wildlife Center, the lion habitat will span the full northern side of the building and include intricate rockwork with plenty of opportunities for lions to jump and climb. Heating and cooling elements will help control the climate. Tree structures and deadfall will be made from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified trees and a food zip line, simulating prey, will be installed for lion feeding as an enrichment opportunity. The habitat will also include a demonstration training wall where guests can view lions participating in their own care and learn about how their own everyday actions can help save the species in the wild.

Construction fencing is already up around the lion house, and demolition has begun. We anticipate the full project will take around two years to complete. When it’s finished, Pepper Family Wildlife Center, anchored by Kovler Lion House, will offer guests an immersive opportunity like no other we’ve made here before.

My sincerest gratitude goes out to not only the Pepper family for this tremendous gift, but also to all the zoo staff dedicated to the successful completion of our new lion house, especially project lead and Vice President of Animal Care & Horticulture Maureen Leahy. My appreciation goes, as well, to our Chairman of the Board of Trustees S. Biff Bowman and Board of Trustees Secretary and Campaign Chair (and tireless fundraiser) Barbara Malott Kizziah, as well as our Women’s Board and Auxiliary Board. Thank you for all you do.

I look forward to welcoming you in 2021 to Pepper Family Wildlife Center!

For Wildlife. For All.