Brookfield Zoo
It’s a light and tumble journey
From the East Side to the park
Just a fine and fancy ramble
To the zoo
— At the Zoo, Simon & Garfunkel, from Bookends

For years, I have regularly visited the Lincoln Park Zoo, but in all that time, I have never ventured out to the Brookfield Zoo, which is west of the city where suburban residential development first emerges from rail yards and industrial sites. I’ve always heard the Brookfield Zoo described as the “big” one, with many more animals and attractions than are in Lincoln Park.

Today I headed west on Metra’s Burlington Northern line to the Hollywood stop, also know as the Zoo stop. The zoo’s south entrance is about a ten-minute walk from the rail stop. The train takes about 25 minutes from Union Station.

To put it bluntly, the Brookfield Zoo is far and away the worst zoo I have ever visited. On reflection, I shouldn’t have been surprised given its western location. The terrain is flat and barren. I am nevertheless puzzled given that the zoo first opened its doors on June 30, 1934: By now, the trees and foliage should have filled what must have been an open field. Alas, there is little natural protection from the sun’s harsh midday light or from the heat that radiates from the asphalt and, in places, poorly sodded ground.

The animal habitats are no better. While I am not a fan of painted concrete structures that are made to look like natural landscapes, I was surprised at how little had been done to create pleasant enclosures for the animals. The camels were surrounded by chain-link fencing. The monkey house—Tropic World—is a large warehouse, with three rooms where the animals reside. In the many zoos I have visited, many of the primates are in outdoor surroundings, but the poor beasts housed in Brookfield are indoors 365 days of the year. The gorillas receive no respite from the crowd. The walkway circles their compound.

I am not a PETA guy, but this zoo certainly makes a strong case for closing all zoos. In many cases, there is one animal per display—at least that is all I saw. That poor rhino was a large lump that didn’t move until the end of the day. I felt particularly bad for the black bear that I saw pacing back and forth on a shaded ledge during each of the three times I passed by his pen.

I realize that zoos naturally attract children, but I was overwhelmed by the hoards of brats crying, shrieking, and acting out. While in line for the dolphin show, I heard one mother repeatedly yell at her kid that she was going to slap his face again unless he started modeling his sister’s behavior.

I don’t know how a family of four affords a day’s adventure. My admission fee was $21. I have no problem with that, but it should be all-inclusive. The 20-minute dolphin show was $5. There was what appeared to be a Legoland exhibit, which I think also required a separate fee, as did some sort of petting zoo. I skipped those. Of course, there are “merch” kiosks, stores, and machines—many at kid eye-level.

As for food: No wonder we have obesity and diabetes epidemics in this country. Yes, I found a place that had several salads on the menu, but the fare comprised largely of hot dogs, big pretzels, popcorn, and sugary drinks. I finally found a stand that sold bottled ice tea. Of course, there was beer for the adults. After they inject sugar into their children, they need to dull their senses to survive the hopped-up commotion.

Well one thing is for sure — I now appreciate the Lincoln Park Zoo much more than I did before today’s adventure. It may be smaller, but Lincoln Park’s displays are superior. It does have some good food options, and if you really want a fancy lunch, you can head across the street to Mon Ami Gabi. Of course, it has its share of screaming brats.

And the other benefit from the my trip: I missed much of the Mueller debacle. Monkeys are better than congressmen and congresswomen making monkeys out of themselves.

[Click on an Image to Enlarge It]

The “Zoo” Stop

“Hand me Jimmy so I can hold him up. It’s in the corner.”


Silverback Gorilla Looking Up at the Glass Panels Overhead

Taking a Break

Ferdinand the Bull

The Central Fountain

And Then There Were Two

Kale for the Giraffe

Two Heads Are Better Than One

Waiting for the Sea Lions

Nice Fencing, Isn’t It?

A Dancing Dolphin

Chicago’s Hot Dog

The SUVs of the Baby World

Photographer’s Note: The images of the primates were shot at ISO 10,000. Not bad for a medium format sensor.

Two Voyeurs

Two Voyeurs

It’s About Numbers

It’s About Numbers