Lincoln Park Zoo’s Pepper Family Wildlife Center  to Open October 14

Lincoln Park Zoo’s Pepper Family Wildlife Center to Open October 14

Opening date set for October 14; African lions, Canada lynx, red pandas, and snow leopards return to Chicago

CHICAGO (September 16, 2021) — The cat’s out of the bag! Lincoln Park Zoo is excited to announce that its new state-of-the-art habitat, Pepper Family Wildlife Center, is opening to the public on Thursday, October 14—welcoming lions and other carnivores back to Chicago.

Joining the zoo is a pride of lions, including one male and three females, two red pandas, two Canada lynx, and two snow leopards.

Lincoln Park Zoo members will have special access from 8-10 a.m. on October 1 and 2 and from 4-6 p.m. on October 3 to meet the lions and explore Pepper Family Wildlife Center before it opens to the public.

“All of the new residents of Pepper Family Wildlife Center have arrived safely and are settling in well,” says Maureen Leahy, vice president of animal care and horticulture. “As a science-based institution committed to advancing animal welfare, this renovation focuses on animal choices. From thermal comfort zones to trees for climbing, and even special enrichment features, the new space provides so many choices for the lions.”

Thanks to a $15 million gift from Roxelyn and the late Richard Pepper, the zoo broke ground on the $41 million renovation in December 2019. The major transformation of the lion habitat includes updates to the interior and exterior of the historic building plus an expansive new habitat for the lions.

The original lion house was constructed in 1912 and designated a Chicago Landmark in 2005. The Pepper Family Wildlife Center renovation team worked with the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to preserve, restore, and enhance the architecturally significant features of the historic building.

Design of the new lion habitat was informed by data collected over the last several years on lion behavior, space use, and preference, using the Lincoln Park Zoo-created behavior monitoring app, ZooMonitor. The savanna-style lion habitat spans the full northern side of the building and includes intricate rockwork to increase vertical complexity and environmental choices for the lions while providing embedded heating and cooling elements for a climate controlled habitat. Climbing tree structures and deadfall were made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified trees.

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

Goettsch Partners is the principal architect and PJA is the exhibit designer for Pepper Family Wildlife Center. Pepper Construction is the General Contractor.

The $41 million renovation of the building is the final phase of The Pride of Chicago, a $135 million capital campaign that began in 2012.

To learn more about Lincoln Park Zoo, 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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