Beyond the basics at Brookfield Zoo

Everyone loves visiting all the awesome animals and world-class exhibits at Brookfield Zoo, but many folks may not realize that the zoo offers so many fun and educational programs and events for families and people of all ages! If you ever have wanted to get up close and personal with an animal, been curious about animal care, or looked for a way to volunteer in the community, you’ll find an opportunity at the zoo this summer. And for those who are looking for a unique night out, the zoo has both family-friendly and adults-only events that can make your summer more memorable.

Backstage Adventures
For the serious animal lover, Brookfield’s Backstage Adventure programs are not to be missed. Guests can work alongside zookeepers for an hour as they care for the animals. Visitors can register for “Discover Dolphins,” Flying Feathered Friends,” “Hanging with the Herps,” “Swamp Thing,” or “Junior Reptile Keeper.” The costs and dates vary by program.

Interpretive Programs Manager Andre Copeland says the program gives people a very intimate encounter with an animal and its keeper.

“These programs give people a better understanding of what goes into animal care and welfare, and the science behind it,” he says. “People walk away with more compassion for the dedication that goes into caring for animals. It’s a perfect program for people who might want to be an animal care professional.”

Copeland says these programs frequently sell out, so he encourages anyone who’s interested to register early.

Giraffe Feedings
Make friends with the zoo’s four majestic Reticulated Giraffes as you feed them right from your hand! This is the second year the zoo offers the feedings, which are scheduled from 10:30 a.m. to noon and 1 to 2:30 p.m. every day, weather permitting, during the summer. For $10, guests will receive leaves, kale or other goodies to give to the animals at their Savannah habitat.

Amy Roberts, senior curator of mammals, says giraffes are friendly, gentle animals that are not afraid to get close to humans.

“The feedings are a great way to foster a connection for animals, wildlife and nature,” she explains. “Guests will get an appreciation for the wonder and grandeur of these animals. It’s an experience for people of all ages, and everyone should make time to feed the giraffes during their visit.”

Penguin Encounters
Guests don’t have to travel to Antarctica or South America to touch a penguin. Guests can mingle with some of the zoo’s Humboldt Penguins in a small room in The Living Coast exhibit, while learning more about the birds’ unique behavior. Tim Snyder, curator of birds, says penguins have distinct personalities that are often on display during the encounter.

“Some penguins like to interact and some don’t, but penguins are very charismatic and wear their personalities on their sleeve,” he says. “People will get to know the penguins and see what cool animals they are. Nowadays people get so little interaction with nature, and these encounters help people understand that these animals deserve to be here and need our help.”

Penguin Encounters are offered twice a day during the summer and cost $45 per person. Advanced registration is recommended as the encounters frequently sell out.

Zoo Camp/Sleepover Safari
Brookfield’s Zoo Camp will keep kids from ages 4 to 14 active, engaged and entertained all summer long. Each of the camp’s ten one-week sessions will have a different theme, ranging from animal care to ecosystems. Campers will be able to take advantage of everything the zoo has to offer, and participate in some camp-exclusive events. Jon Meisenbach, camp, sleepover and NatureStart program coordinator, says that campers will get a taste of what goes on behind the scenes at the zoo.

“We want to make sure the kids have fun while learning something,” he explains. “There are a lot of opportunities for campers to get in touch with nature. They’re exposed to the outdoors, where they can get dirty and experience wildlife.”

Registration for Zoo Camp is now open on the zoo’s website.

Sleepover Safaris are also offered on select Friday nights in the spring and fall, where families can see what happens at the zoo after dark by embarking on a night hike, and visit an exhibit the next morning before the zoo opens to the public.

Zoo Chats
Don’t forget to grab a schedule when you enter the zoo and check out the day’s Zoo Chats. Get the inside scoop on how to care for the animals as well as some fun facts from the experts who give more than 150 free 10-minute chats a week during the summer. The Zoo Chats schedule will also be posted on the website.

Family Play Programs
For families with young children, the zoo’s Family Play Program gives parents and tots a chance to learn all about animals through play and hands-on interaction. The “Seedlings” program, which is for ages 15 months through 3 years, is offered this summer in two four-week sessions. Once a week, families gather in the Hamill Family Play Zoo for an hour of fun, sensory and dramatic play.

Docent/Volunteer Opportunities
For animal lovers who want to give back to the community, the zoo offers three docent and volunteer opportunities. The docent program trains adults to talk with guests about animals and the importance of conservation. The zoo, which has about 150 docents, offers a training program every fall. Applicants are required to attend an on-site training, research an animal on their own, and shadow a mentor docent before being stationed at an exhibit or at one of the four “Touch Carts” located around the zoo. In addition to the docent program, the Guest Guide program accepts volunteers to staff the informational gazebos and help guests navigate around the zoo.

Jason Theuman, docent and volunteer program coordinator, says both programs are a critical part of the zoo’s mission.

“They’re out in the park every day, making personal connections with the guests, inspiring them to engage with animals and to support conservation action in their own lives,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to support our mission of inspiring conservation leadership.”

Special Events
Evenings comes alive at the zoo during the summer with the annual Zoo Brew on Sat. and Sun. June 22 and 23, and the Summer Nights Concert Series on Friday and Saturday nights from July 6 through Aug. 18.

More than 80 types of beer, from traditional to craft brews, will be available for sampling at Zoo Brew, which also includes live music. All of the proceeds from the annual event go toward the zoo’s conservation fund to support conservation efforts around the world. Tickets to Zoo Brew also include daytime zoo admission.

Cover bands spanning all musical genres will entertain families on weekend nights as part of the popular Summer Nights Concert Series, which is free with zoo admission. The evenings kick off at 4 p.m. with games and activities for children, followed by a children’s performer at 5:30, and wrap up with the featured band at 7:30.

The zoo honors moms and dads with the Mother’s Day Brunch on Sun. May 13 and Father’s Day BBQ on Sun. June 17. Event cost includes zoo admission. The zoo is also available to host your wedding, shower, or other private celebration. The catering team will help make sure your special event is unforgettable.

More information about all of the zoo’s incredible events and programs can be found at www.czs.org.