Top 12 Lincoln Park Zoo Happenings in 2023

December 21, 2023

It’s been an action-packed year for Chicago’s free zoo. As 2023 turns into 2024, we look back on some of the progress we’ve made and several changes that have taken place on grounds this year.

1. Lincoln Park Zoo was re-accredited through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and won several AZA awards.

AZA accreditation is the gold standard for zoos and aquariums. Lincoln Park Zoo has been accredited since the 1970s, and recently passed another inspection to get re-accredited this year. Additionally, at the AZA Annual Conference in September, the zoo received several monumental awards. The William G. Conway International Conservation Award was given to the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project (GTAP) and Kevin J. Bell, CEO Emeritus, accepted the Marlin Perkins Award for Professional Excellence from CEO Megan R. Ross, Ph.D.

2. The zoo welcomed a number of new arrivals, including a Grevy’s zebra foal, some skinks, a sloth, threatened birds, an eastern black rhinoceros, and three adorable lion cubs.

The year started off strong with the birth of three lion cubs, later named Pesho, Sidai, and Lomelok. Other zoo births during the year included two prehensile-tailed skinks and a female Grevy’s zebra foal, who was named Yabelo after a wildlife sanctuary in southern Ethiopia. Lincoln Park Zoo also became home to Chispa the sloth and Lulu the eastern black rhinoceros, who both arrived from other zoos as part of Species Survival Plans through AZA. Two Bali myna chicks were also born at McCormick Bird House, adding to a critically endangered population.

3. GTAP was involved in a big conservation win when the Republic of Congo annexed the Djeke Triangle to the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park to protect the pristine forest.

The work done by researchers at GTAP, led by Lincoln Park Zoo’s Dr. David Morgan, helped provide evidence that the region has conservation value and deserves to be protected. Now, by an act of the Republic of Congo’s Parliament, an area that provides habitat for numerous animals, including apes, chimpanzees, and forest elephants, will be saved from exploitation from logging companies.

4. The majestic bur oak on the South Lawn was removed as it reached its natural end of life.

In May, the majestic bur oak that stood on the South Lawn was removed. The tree predated Lincoln Park Zoo’s founding in 1868, providing shelter and shade for long decades. Its genetics live on, thanks to a partnership with The Morton Arboretum, which grafted 36 of its scions onto rootstock for propagation. Lincoln Park Zoo is an accredited arboretum and contains a number of trees of significance. Zoo guests said goodbye to the tree during an Arbor Day celebration on grounds.

5. Lincoln Park Zoo released its five-year strategic plan, which will focus on ensuring the zoo maintains its leadership in areas of animal care, conservation, and community.

The strategic plan outlines the ways Lincoln Park Zoo will continue to make progress in its mission to connect people and nature. Through 2027, the zoo’s priorities include being stewards for animals, conducting science to support conservation, deepening engagement with local communities, and maintaining a free, transformational experience for all. Learn more here.

6. The zoo announced several wildlife trafficking initiatives, including an installation at O’Hare International Airport and a partnership with Monitor Conservation Research Society.

If you’re traveling through O’Hare’s international Terminal 5, you may encounter an installation focusing on illegal wildlife trafficking and the real animals that have been taken through O’Hare. The exhibit aims to educate people flying in and out of the U.S. about making informed choices to protect treasured species now and into the future.

The zoo also announced that it will support Monitor, which investigates wildlife trafficking while raising consumer awareness and advising policy. Zoo researchers will provide data to help understand the issues and drivers surrounding this difficult, high-profile crime.

o'hare wildlife trafficking exhibit

7. In 2023, the colony of black-crowned night herons that nests at Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo had the most successful breeding year on record.

Zoo researchers counted a peak of 686 adult herons, and later in the season, they counted 486 hatch-year birds—which broke a previous record of 400. On top of that, the scientists were able to deploy GPS transmitters on six total herons and were able to band several more. This will yield exciting information on where the birds spend the winter and add to our base of knowledge about these state-endangered birds.

8. Adding to its accessibility offerings, Lincoln Park Zoo made news with its Memory Enrichment program—the first of its kind at a zoo. It also added ASL interpretation to Guest Engagement demonstrations throughout the week three seasons a year.

Lincoln Park Zoo announced a new monthly program, held every third Friday, for people living with Dementia along with their family, friends, and caregivers. Developed in consultation with Sunrise Senior Living, Memory Enrichment offers attendees community-building opportunities, multisensory experiences, and low-impact physical activity. The pilot program received coverage not just in Chicago, but around the country through an announcement by AZA.

Also, in partnership with Columbia College’s ASL-English Interpretation program, zoo demonstrations by the Guest Engagement team now feature American Sign Language interpreters in spring, summer, and fall. For more information on accessibility, visit this page.

9. As the zoo works toward lowering its carbon footprint, it is becoming ever more strategic about its impact on the environment. In 2023, the zoo made big and small changes at events such as Spooky Zoo and ZooLights to ensure best sustainability practices.

As an organization concerned about the effects of climate change and human activity on animal habitats around the world, Lincoln Park Zoo already does many things to lower its environmental impact, from recycling animal waste to using low-emission LED lights during ZooLights.

This year, for the first time, these efforts included the 37th Annual Spooky Zoo, hosted by the zoo’s Auxiliary Board. The board and the Development team worked with the internal Green Team and the PalmOil Scan app to ensure that all the treats distributed during the trick-or-treating event was made with either no palm oil or sustainably sourced palm oil.

If you went to ZooLights Presented by ComEd and Invesco QQQ this year, you may have seen real garlands on the kiosks, made from noble, cedar, boxwood, and pine trees. This came about as a result of cooperation between the Events and Horticulture departments as they try to move away from plastic decorations to compostable, natural décor.

real wreath and decorating zoo kiosks

10. Lincoln Park Zoo now has an office at the newly opened Latinos Progresando Community Center in Little Village, one of the zoo’s partner communities, and is deepening its relationships in the neighborhood of Austin.

From its new office and programming space in Little Village, the zoo’s Community Engagement team hopes to reach more than 2,000 people annually. Zoo staff will work out of Little Village two days a week to be closer to residents.

Lincoln Park Zoo works with directly with community partners in Little Village and North Lawndale, and has recently added Austin to the list. It is working to further develop connections in Austin through urban wildlife and ecology programs.

11. In early December, Francois’ langur Zhang was declared cancer-free after a first-of-its-kind medical intervention by veterinary staff and Rush University Medical Center.

The zoo’s veterinary staff, under Dr. Kathryn Gamble, years ago identified a specific type of cancer that has been a recurringproblem for Francois’ langurs. Until Zhang developed a tumor, though, the cancer had never been detected at an early enough stage to treat. Gamble developed a medical plan that involved surgery, then coordinated with Rush’s director of head and neck surgical oncology to do the actual procedure in 2022. A year later, another surgery was done to cover some of the exposed bone. This month, Zhang was declared cancer-free.


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12. Illinois established protections for nonhuman primates and bears with the Wild Animal Public Safety Act, which the zoo strongly supported.

The state of Illinois passed the Wild Animal Public Safety Act over the summer, which prohibits direct contact between bears, non-human primates, and members of the public. The legislation is designed to safeguard the wellbeing of these species as well as the safety of humans, and aligns with the zoo’s research findings and its desire to improve animal welfare everywhere.

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