No feeding these animals

Brick Safari opens at Brookfield Zoo for the summer

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By Tamara O'Shaughnessy

You don't have to love Legos to fall in love with the newest animals at Brookfield Zoo this summer. 

More than 1.6 million bricks and nearly 8,000 hours went into creating the 40 life-size animals making up Brick Safari for its North America debut along a winding wooded path on the east side of the zoo.

The smallest animal, the pangolin, features 1,500 bricks. The largest, and sure to be a crowd favorite, the elephant, took 271,739 bricks and a whopping 1,600 hours for a team of builders to create. 

While some of the animals have live counterparts elsewhere in the zoo for visiting after taking part in the safari, some are unique to Chicago, such as the giant panda and her playful cubs.

For the zoo, Brick Safari helps serve dual purposes: to educate people to protect the animals, such as the pangolin, which is the most trafficked animal in the world, and to highlight the importance of STEAM opportunities – which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics --  for Chicagoland children.

"When children play with building bricks, such Legos, a lot of time we think they are just playing. What they are really doing is exercising their critical thinking skills, their problem solving and engaging themselves in many of the attributes of STEAM," said Andre Copeland, interpretive programs manager for the Chicago Zoological Society, which operates the zoo.

He says he hopes adults walk through the safari and think about how they used to build with Legos and about what STEAM means to their lives and their children's lives now.

Work on Brick Safari started more than a year ago, with semi-tractor trailers loaded with the sculptures rolling into Brookfield a few weeks ago.

Copeland said the zoo was inspired to try the exhibit after zoo leaders saw similar exhibits, such as the one returning to Morton Arboretum in Lisle this summer called Nature Connects, focusing on local flora and fauna.

"We wanted to bring this here so that people can see worldwide animals and to help people realize we can help animals that live a world away," he said. "They are literally works of art. They touch us on an emotional level."

His favorite: the giant cobra that appears ready to strike.

Christina Anthony, international business development director of Live Company Group, which worked with the zoo to bring the exhibit to Brookfield, said now that Brookfield Zoo has unveiled Brick Safari, she expects other zoos to clamor for the exhibit.

"I think it is absolutely amazing. It's an experience from start to finish. I don't know where to look. I was like a kid and getting all excited about where to go first," she said during the media preview last week.

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