Step Inside the Savanna

Sabrina Cynova
January 6, 2022
Sabrina Cynova
January 6, 2022
Thanks to the zoo’s Horticulture team, zoogoers can immerse themselves in a savanna-like atmosphere at Pepper Family Wildlife Center. Landscape design of the habitat was specially crafted to mimic an African lion’s native range.

Tall grasses, small trees, and native plants create a savanna illusion at Pepper Family Wildlife Center.

It took a village to create, design, and execute the state-of-the-art lion habitat, from restoring the historic lion house to planting a variety of species both inside and out. The zoo’s small but mighty Horticulture team played an important role in creating the new savanna-style lion habitat alongside experts from PJA Architects and Atrium landscaping.

“Animals spend a significant amount of time interacting with their environment, such as using plants as shade, food, and privacy,” says Katrina Chipman, director of horticulture. “The goal for Pepper Family Wildlife Center was to create a space a pride of lions would enjoy spending time in, as well as resemble their native range. The new habitat reflects this with its landscape choices.”

Planning which species to plant in and around an animal exhibit is no easy feat. It takes time, vision, and expertise to execute properly.

The lion habitat features tall grasses and small trees to mimic a savanna atmosphere. The public-facing landscape includes garden-style beds, grasses, a 30-year-old bur oak tree, and native plants to attract pollinators. A unique feature of the renovation includes the creation of six green roofs. Not only installed for their green appearance, the green roofs keep the building cooler and absorb heat—reducing the heat island effect. Heat islands are urbanized areas that experience higher temperatures than outlying areas

Chipman says, keep an eye out for the two new variety of hibiscus, blackberry merlot and spinderella, outside the lion habitat. They bloom in July through the first frost. Lincoln Park Zoo is proud to hold national accreditation from the American Public Gardens Association Plant Collections Network for its herbaceous perennial collection.

Step inside Pepper Family Wildlife Center, and you will discover the similarities between the prairies of the Midwest and the savannas in Africa. Although located far apart on a map and home to different animals, both ecosystems are open grasslands that share a similar appearance—reminding visitors how interconnected nature is.

“Whether you’re exploring the prairies of the Midwest or the savannas in Africa, one thing is certain. Nature surrounds and connects us,” says Chipman. “I hope one

takeaway that visitors of Pepper Family Wildlife Center leave with is that you don’t have to travel far to experience nature. It’s right here in your backyard in the prairies of the Midwest.”