Lions Are Coming Back To Lincoln Park Zoo After A Nearly 2-Year Absence

LINCOLN PARK — After almost two years, big cats are coming back to Lincoln Park Zoo.

Credit: Blank Park Zoo
3-year-old male Jabari is part of the pride of lions joining Lincoln Park Zoo.

Four lions have arrived at a newly-renovated habitat known as the Pepper Family Wildlife Center. They include a 3-year-old male lion, Jabari, from Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, Iowa; and three sisters, Zari, Cleo and Hasira, from Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in South Carolina.

The previous pride of lions, Sahar, Kamali and Zalika, went to Rolling Hills Zoo in Kansas in May 2019 in preparation for the renovation. Sahar died unexpectedly later that year.

The lion and big cat habitat will open to the public Oct. 14, allowing the cats to settle into their new home before they see their fans. The new pride of lions will be joined by two red pandas, two Canada lynx and two snow leopards.

Zoo members will have early access to see the cats and explore the new habitat 8-10 a.m. Oct.1-2, and 4-6 p.m. Oct. 3.

The $41 million renovation was boosted by a $15 million donation by Roxelyn and the late Richard Pepper. The project upgraded the building’s interior features and exterior facade, resulting in an expansive new home for the lions and other big cats. 

Other features include several environmental adjustments to better serve the animals. New rock formations and climbing trees were added. There are also cooling and heating elements embedded throughout.

Another change is the new Lion Loop, which will allow visitors to walk through the lion habitat and view the exterior habitat via a built-in walkway in the center of the building. 

“All of the new residents of Pepper Family Wildlife Center have arrived safely and are settling in well,” said 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.”

The renovation of the big cats habitat is the final phase of “The Pride of Chicago,” a $135 million capital campaign that began in 2012.

The lion building originally opened in 1912.

Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago
A major part of the renovation to Lincoln Park Zoo’s lion habitat includes the Kovler Lion House, which has received both interior and exterior updates.
Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago
The interior of the lion house where visitors will be able to observe the lions in new ways keeps many of its original features.

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