The Pepper Family Wildlife Center, a $41 million renovation of the Lincoln Park Zoo lion habitat, recently opened to the public. The historic landmark Kovler Lion House originally opened in 1912. The lion habitat renovation project is the final phase of “The Pride of Chicago,” a $135 million capital campaign that began in 2012.
The wildlife exhibit is located inside the zoo’s main gates and is now home to four lions, two red pandas, two snow leopards, and Canada Lynx. New indoor and outdoor windows in the zoo’s lion habitat provide expansive views of the animals within a naturalistic landscape.
The African Savanna-style habitat spans the north side of the building, providing ample space for a pride of lions. The new exhibit nearly doubles the size of the previous lion yard. Simulated rockwork cladding was constructed along portions of the building elevation, on view structures, and within the exhibit space. The Kopje-themed zoo rockwork includes heating and cooling elements to keep the cats comfortable in any season.
Providing trees and elevated rockwork areas for climbing within the exhibit were key focuses of the exhibit design strategy. Additionally, the larger Kopje rock outcrops allow the cats to perch above on higher vantage points.
Designers integrated a food zipline between rock features to simulate the movement of prey passing through the habitat. This enrichment feature allows the lions to “hunt” for their food. Within the center of the habitat, visitors can view a demonstration training wall and experience nose-to-nose viewing opportunities.
COST was hired by Pepper Construction (Chicago office) to provide shop drawings, structural engineering, a scale construction model, fabrication, and construction for the zoo rockwork. On-site zoo construction performed by the COST field crew included earthen/mud textures and simulated Kopje rockwork. The project was designed by Goettsch Partners, Inc. and Seattle-based PJA Architects.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Bijalba / Lincoln Park Zoo