Lincoln Park Zoo Breaks Ground on Lion Habitat with Generous Gift from the Pepper Family

Lincoln Park Zoo Breaks Ground on Lion Habitat with Generous Gift from the Pepper Family

Thanks to a $15 million gift from the Pepper family, Lincoln Park Zoo has begun the capstone project of The Pride of Chicago capital campaign.

Thanks to a $15 million gift from the Pepper family, Lincoln Park Zoo has begun the capstone project of The Pride of Chicago capital campaign: a major transformation of the lion house.

This construction includes updates to the interior and exterior of the historic building, plus an expansive new habitat for lions. Renovation on the lion house, which expands the building’s scope from animal viewing to interactive programming, began this month. The building’s opening date remains to be determined. The new space will be referred to as Pepper Family Wildlife Center.

“This generous donation from Richard and Roxelyn Pepper begins an exciting transformation at the heart of the zoo,” said Biff Bowman, chairman of the Lincoln Park Zoo Board of Trustees. “The commitment to the zoo shown by not only the Peppers, but also by the zoo’s Women’s and Auxiliary Boards and my fellow trustees—especially Barbara Malott Kizziah, our campaign chair, who has been instrumental in securing other critical gifts and activating our philanthropic community—helps us secure a sustainable future for one of Chicago’s most historic institutions.”

“As long-time Chicagoans, our family cares deeply about Chicago. We want to build a legacy that ensures its historic institutions are sustained while modernizing with the times,” said Richard Pepper. “We see this gift as an opportunity to give back to the city that’s given so much to us with its natural, cultural, and business landscapes. What better place to support than a historic institution that’s free for all of Chicago to enjoy?”

The $40 million renovation of the building is the final phase of The Pride of Chicago, a $135 million capital campaign that began in 2012.

“This renovation requires more care and investment than other capital projects because the building is designated a historical landmark,” said President & CEO Kevin Bell. “When it’s complete, we’ll have a new world-class habitat for a pride of lions and welcome the majestic species back to Chicago as soon as possible.”

Design of the new lion habitat is informed by data collected over the last several years on lion behavior, space use, and preference.

“In essence, the lions themselves helped design their new habitat,” said Vice President of Animal Care & Horticulture Maureen Leahy. “Our welfare scientists used ZooMonitor to collect data to help design and build a scientifically-informed habitat with animal care and welfare at the forefront.”

Senior Welfare Scientist Katie Cronin, Ph.D., added: “They told us through their behavior what they liked and where they chose to spend their time, then we worked with the architects to create a space that reflects those preferences in design elements such as vertical complexity, shade coverage, and enrichment opportunities.”

The savanna-style lion habitat will span the full northern side of the building and will include intricate rockwork to increase vertical complexity and environmental choices for the lions while providing embedded heating and cooling elements for a climate controlled habitat. Tree structures and deadfall will be made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified trees and a food zip line, simulating prey, will be installed for lion feeding as an enrichment opportunity.

Guests will have immersive, nose-to-nose viewing opportunities from both inside and outside Pepper Family Wildlife Center. A unique indoor design element, generously funded by the Women’s Board of Lincoln Park Zoo, will also enable guests to view the exhibit from the center of the habitat. The habitat will also be built to include a demonstration training wall where guests can view the lions participating in their own healthcare.

Leahy said: “With the training wall open to the lions’ indoor area, we’ll be able to open up behind-the-scenes care and husbandry into a space where the public can view it. It’s important to us to be as transparent as possible with how we care for these beautiful animals.”

The facility was last renovated in 1985 through the zoo’s Landmark capital campaign. With that renovation, the building took the name of long-standing zoo supporters, the Kovler family. “We are so grateful to the Kovler Family Foundation for their support of Lincoln Park Zoo over the last 40 years,” said Bell.

The Pride of Chicago past projects include Searle Visitor Center (2018), Hurvis Family Learning Center (2017), Walter Family Arctic Tundra (2016), Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove (2016), Regenstein Macaque Forest (2015), and Lionel Train Adventure (2014) in addition to renovations to Kovler Seal Pool, Main Mall, and East and West Gates.

Goettsch Partners is the design architect and PJA is the exhibit designer for Pepper Family Wildlife Center.

To learn more about Lincoln Park Zoo’s The Pride of Chicago campaign or to donate, visit

About Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo inspires communities to create environments where wildlife will thrive in our urbanizing world. The zoo is a leader in local and global conservation, animal care and welfare, learning, and science. A historic Chicago landmark founded in 1868, the not-for-profit Lincoln Park Zoo is a privately-managed, member-supported organization and is free and open 365 days a year. Visit us at

Media Contacts

Jillian Braun

Lincoln Park Zoo

Anna Cieslik

Lincoln Park Zoo


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