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Nearly 1,000 wild animals live at Lincoln Park Zoo and other things you didn’t know

Written by
Sara Freund

One of the first things you learn when you come to Chicago is that the Lincoln Park Zoo is completely free. It's amazing. But there is also so much more to the zoo than getting to see cute baby camels. Lions, monkeys, rhinoceroses, swans and zebras all call the 35-acre zoo home. Here are five things you probably didn’t know about all the wildlife in the heart of the city.

1. There’s an exclusive club at Lincoln Park Zoo. And sorry, it’s just for the animals. The over-30 club is for those creatures that have reached the ripe, old age of 30. Currently, 21 animals have reached this milestone at the local zoo. In fact, a black and white colobus monkey just celebrated her 30th birthday on July 23. The oldest animals at the zoo are two Chilean flamingos and Maggie, an African dwarf crocodile, who are all 40 years old. Other members of the club include a 39-year-old nicobar pigeon, a 36-year-old chimpanzee and a 30-year-old black rhinoceros.

Photograph: Courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo

2. It’s the nation’s only free zoo… that’s privately run. Lincoln Park Zoo isn’t operated by the government, and 85 percent of its funding comes from earned and contributed revenue. A board of trustees operates the zoo and maintains the entire animal collection.

3. A pair of swans were its first residents. The zoo started in 1868 with the gift of a pair of swans. That’s why you’ll always see snow-white trumpeter swans (and maybe their babies!) at the pond. Even in winter on a snowy day, you'll find these beautiful birds hidden in the snow.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Sam Howzit

4. About 1,000 wild animals live at the zoo. The largest group of birds at the zoo are actually wild. More than 230 wild endangered black-crowned night herons make the zoo their home near the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo. Last summer, officials counted 393 adults and 249 young nesting. That adds up to nearly 992 birds total last year, which is the most the zoo has ever had. 

5. The lions live in a landmark. The Kovler Lion House is a historic landmark with a wide hall and vaulted ceilings. The building erected in 1912 houses some rare big cats, such as African lions, Amur tigers, an Asian snow leopard and a South American jaguar.

Photograph: Courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo

Need more wild facts? Another one of our city’s best attractions is the Shedd Aquarium, and there are plenty of things you probably haven’t heard about the animals there either (for example, they have a blind sea lion).

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