Brookfield Zoo begins site work for new 2.15-acre indoor/outdoor habitat for gorillas and orangutans. | CZS/Brookfield Zoo

Construction fencing is up and preliminary site work has begun on a planned 2.15-acre indoor/outdoor habitat for primates at Brookfield Zoo that will wrap around the west and north sides of Tropic World, which the zoo’s primates have called home since 1983.

The project, estimated by Chicago Zoological Society President and CEO Dr. Michael Adkesson last fall at $50 to $60 million, will create four new outdoor habitats along the north side of Tropic World that will extend about halfway into the West Mall.

Habitats will serve as the new outdoor homes for two gorilla troupes, a family unit and a bachelor group, for the zoo’s orangutans and for several species of South American monkeys.

Newly released renderings give a sense of how spacious and naturalistic the new outdoor primate habitats at Brookfield Zoo will be, and just how close zoo visitors will be able to get to the animals, separated only by panes of thick glass. | CZS/Brookfield Zoo

The habitats will have naturalistic features such as running water, climbing structures, grasses and vines. Zoo patrons will be able to get up close and personal with the primates through two-story tall glass windows separating them.

The outdoor exhibit will also be planted up with 75 new trees, 500 new shrubs and several pollinator gardens, according to a press release issued by Brookfield Zoo on March 20.

“Seeing our gorillas and orangutans come outside, some for the very first time, will be an unforgettable moment as they experience natural grass under their feet and sunlight shining on their faces,” said Adkesson in the press release. “The new habitats will also allow guests to connect with these amazing charismatic animals in a whole new way. Our mission is to engage our guests in caring about wildlife and nature. From that connection, we can then inspire people to incorporate conservation-minded activities into their daily lives.”

CZS/Brookfield Zoo

In addition to the new, expansive outdoor habitats, the project also includes the construction of a new Gorilla Conservation Center, which the zoo describes as a “state-of-the-art learning space for the public and a dedicated home for the Chicago Zoological Society’s King Conservation Leadership Academy, in which high-school age students participate in science programming with an emphasis on career and college readiness.”

First reported by the Landmark last November, the new primate habitats and Gorilla Conservation Center are slated to be completed in 2025, with animals being introduced into the new spaces that year and into 2026.

The primate project is just the first of several major changes to Brookfield Zoo envisioned over the next decade as the institution nears its 100th birthday in 2034. 

Some of the smaller improvements include creating a new aviary immediately south  of Tropic World to showcase North American wild birds. There are also plans to create a Blanding’s and box turtle habitat at the Hamill Family Nature Plaza south of Tropic World and a seasonal habitat for Macaws nearby.

“You can some in the South Gate and you can walk all the way down to the Living Coast and not see anything other than a peacock,” Adkesson said of the planned improvements last fall. “One of the things we’re trying to change is to bring some animals back into this space.”

A more ambitious plan to reimagine the northwest corner of the zoo campus into a large, integrated African safari habitat is still years down the road.

Zoo officials are planning to host a formal groundbreaking for the new primate habitats and Gorilla Conservation Center this fall when it also plans to announce its Next Century Campaign to fund those other improvements.