Almost two years in the making, Lincoln Park Zoo to unveil new lion den

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CHICAGO — It’s been almost two years in the making, and now there’s something new at Lincoln Park Zoo — visitors can once again visit the “king of the jungle” in a much bigger den.

The big cats will be prowling again at Lincoln Park Zoo thanks to a $15 million gift from Roxelyn and Richard Pepper. Next week, the zoo will host an event unveiling a dramatic new, state-of-the-art lion habitat at the Pepper Family Wildlife Center.

In all, it’s a $41 million transformation. A designated Chicago Landmark, the original Lion House was built in 1912. After breaking ground almost two years ago, there are now updates to the inside and outside — with much more room for the lions.

“Shade structures and shelters and high vantage points. Climbing features, vertical complexities,” Maureen Leahy, VP of animal care and horticulture at the zoo said.

Visitors to the new Savannah will have immersive viewing opportunities from both inside and outside. And even better, the population is growing. Four new African lions are joining the pride.

“A male named Jabari, who’s turning four in November, and three females: Cleo, Hasira and Zari. And they are in the process of acclimating to the new habitat and are exploring every nook and cranny,” Leahy said.

What makes the nooks and crannies state of the art? One of the rocks the lions will hang out on, isn’t just a rock.

“Within this habitat feature, there is heated surfaces for Chicago’s winter months, along with heated forced air and cool air depending on Chicago’s weather for the day,” Leahy said.

And there’s lots more shade and trees for climbing. Zoo scientists studied the lions’ preferences and behavior. Their new habitat is designed to give the mighty jungle cats, the choices befitting the king of the jungle.

“We really wanted to provide the lions with opportunities to choose where they spend their time,” Leahy said.

And it’s not just the lions. The re-vamped exhibit will also host red pandas, snow leopards and Canada lynx. It officially opens next Thursday.

And like the rest of Lincoln Park Zoo, admission is free.

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