Since we moved to Chicago I’ve been itching to go to one of the zoos. It’s rare to live less than an hour from one zoo let alone two. It’s also been a dream of mine for sometime to photograph animals at a zoo. I’ve seen photographs by others at zoos and nature preserves and have seeped of jealousy at their talent and opportunity. So I was jumping to see adorable animals.
Maybe it was my excitement or the high expectations friends, family, and Brookfield itself had given me about the zoo, but it was a bit of a letdown. The zoo is relatively nice. There are old buildings and some beautiful green space.
But, parts of it seemed dirty, even by zoo standards. Several indoor exhibits smelled more than I remember at other zoos. Several “exhibits” (though I really that term in zoos; it makes it sound like the animals are taxidermied or on display, rather than living breathing creatures) were closed or inexplicably missing–including the zoos large orangutan family. The variety of animals seemed at times a bit limited–What kind of zoo doesn’t have elephants! And, this is to say nothing of the outrageous cost of going. Parking alone is $10 plus an entrance fee of $15, not to mention the cost of lunch and some of the extra areas that include an additional admissions fee. When you add it all up it’s an expensive outing for one person and especially for a typical family of four.
I was disappointed so many of the animals were indoors. Most other zoos I’ve visited have indoor and outdoor spaces for many of their animals, but it seems that Brookfield, with the exception of a handful of animals, has outdoor spaces for some animals and indoor spaces for others. All of the monkeys and apes are inside. Their space to play is relatively large, but it felt interior and artificial. I’ve never like the idea of caged and pent-up animals, so I’m torn with how zoos should deal with animals like monkeys. They can travel so far and get out of their surroundings so easily that you can’t just put them outside without some sort of high fence or cage. But, that seems more humane and realistic putting them in an artificially lite indoor arena.
This shouldn’t be a complete pan of the zoo. Animals at Brookfield are almost exclusively endangered. They have an incredible research building on the property and their zoologists are internationally recognized. Not all of the exhibits were a disappointment. The giraffe, the okapi and the wolves were particularly impressive. And, while I may have been disappointed that there wasn’t a greater variety of animals, it meant I wasn’t overwhelmed with walking fatigue by the end of the day.
Regardless of all my complaints and quibbles, Brookfield is still worth the trip, especially since it is so close to home. I’d still like to go to Lincoln Park and visit its zoo, which happens to be free, but for now I’m just happy I got to go to a zoo.
The Brookfield Zoo is open 7 days a week. Monday through Friday from 9-5 and Saturday and Sunday from 9-6.