Brookfield Zoo has plenty of attractions drawing tourists from around the country, but the institution may just have acquired what could be its most popular – certainly its most Instagrammable – attraction.
Since Sept. 17, visitors coming through the North Gate entrance will confronted King Nyani, the world’s largest bronze gorilla sculpture. Weighing almost 2.4 tons, King Nyani (the Swahili word for “gorilla”) lounges on land just inside the North Gate once home to a small landscaped pond.
King Kong-sized at 23 feet long and 8.5 feet high, the great beast reclines on his side, with his right arm resting in front ready to cradle anyone who wants to get up close and personal.
“The engagement has been through the roof,” said Leah Rippe, vice president of marketing and communications for the Chicago Zoological Society, which operates Brookfield Zoo.
King Nyani spent much of the past year in Bella Abzug Park in New York City’s Hudson Yards development, where the sculpture was unveiled in August 2020 and immediately became a sensation.
The sculpture was created by Australian artists Gillie and Marc Schattner, who the New York Times has called “the most successful and prolific creators of public art in New York’s history.”
The couple specialize in creating art that inspires the preservation of endangered animals, such as gorillas, whose numbers are threatened by illegal poaching and deforestation of their habitats.
King Nyani, according to the couple’s website, is part a larger initiative called Love the Last, “a social movement driven by public art to raise awareness, funds and support for endangered animals across the world, encouraging people to take action before we lose these animals forever.”
The sculpture was on display in New York City for nine months, at which time the Chicago Zoological Society learned it was possible to acquire the artwork – though they’d have to raise quite a bit of money, quickly.
Rippe wouldn’t reveal just how much it cost to purchase and ship the massive bronze object – which turned many heads, Rippe said, during its transport to Brookfield Zoo, uncovered, on a flatbed truck.
The funds came via Brookfield Zoo donors whose identities are being kept anonymous at this time.
“We had a group of donors who wanted to make sure it happened on a tight deadline,” Rippe said. “It all came together pretty quickly.”
In preparation for the new, permanent attraction, zoo buildings and grounds staff filled in the pond with playground material to create a soft surface for visitors who want to approach King Nyani for a photo.
Donors were treated to the unveiling of King Nyani at a private event on Sept. 16. The sculpture greeted the public for the first time when the zoo’s gates opened the following morning.
While the King Nyani sculpture at Brookfield Zoo is the biggest bronze gorilla in the world on display right now, three identical enormous statues were cast. Brookfield Zoo’s was the first of the three cast, Rippe said.
Of the remaining two, one is headed to the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, while the other is headed to an as-yet unnamed art museum.