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Lincoln Park Zoo

Regenstein Center for African Apes

Monika Lange, pja architects + landscape architects, p.s. (author)
Monika Fiby, ZooLex (editor)
Published 2005-7-17



2001 N Clark Street , Chicago IL, 60614-4712 , USA
Phone: 01-312-742 2000
Fax: 312 742 2137
URL: http://www.lpzoo.org


Great Apes, animal-activated enrichment, cutting-edge animal holding facilities, indoor and outdoor, integrated research facility, year-round viewing


Family:Species:Common Name:Capacity:
HominidaeGorilla gorillaGorillacurrent 2.6.1; 1.3
HominidaePan troglodytesChimpanzeecurrent 1.4; 2.4


    2006 AZA Significant Achievement Award


Lincoln Park Zoo is reknowned for its exceptional breeding success with gorillas and for its dedication to great ape research and conservation. In 1976, the Lester E. Fisher Great Ape House was built as a state-of-the-art home for the zoo's gorilla and chimpanzee groups. 25 years later, the zoo wanted to take advantage of the evolution in exhibit design and construction technology and the goal was set to create again a facility that would set the standard for decades to come. The new exhibit was to provide the apes with richly textured and naturalistic enclosures; researchers were to be able to observe animal behavior; the exhibit experience was to accommodate innovative education for visitors to enjoy a wholly new perspective of ape life; the building needed to be integrated with the surrounding Chicago skyline.

The Regenstein Center for African Apes (RCAA) opened on July 1th, 2004. Three distinct habitats open to the public surround a state-of-the-art facility: The Kovler Gorilla Bamboo Forest, a moated exhibit for gorillas that includes a waterfall and stands of natural bamboo that blend with 15- to 20-foot (4,5 to 6 m) steel bamboo poles. The artificial bamboo poles are bent at the top at various angles simulating broken bamboo. Several poles are arranged to form sturdy tripods creating sitting and nesting sites. The Strangler Fig Forest, a wire-netted exhibit, can accommodate either gorillas or chimpanzees. Its defining feature are artificial strangler figs that form intricate climbing structures. The Dry Riverbed Valley is also enclosed by wire-netting and can be used for gorillas or chimpanzees. A log jam of more than 20 deadfall trees lies at the bottom of the dry riverbed to form an animal climbing structure. Both netted enclosures include water features. Extensive plantings blend the landscape features in all exhibits and create a 'tropical' feeling appropriate to the natural habitats of the apes.

The outdoor exhibits extend seamlessly into the building through sliding glass walls that separate the outdoor spaces from the dayrooms. The indoor spaces are furnished with the same climbing structures as those found outside. Glass walls offer contiguous views of the exhibits and triangular alcoves allow the visitors to step 'into' the exhibits and surround themselves with the animals. At the same time, the various elements in the exhibits offer a sense of separation and privacy for the animals while still being in close proximity to the visitors.

6000 feet (1830 m) of artifical vines were incorporated into the new exhibits that were designed based on extensive front-end studies about the habitat preferences of the apes in their old facility. The highly structured exhibits provide the gorillas and chimpanzees with a complex environment that encourages diverse activities with animal enrichment and visitor enjoyment in mind. One main goal of the RCAA is to educate the public about great apes. The exhibits are complemented by detailed and interactive interpretive displays. An auxilliary indoor and outdoor exhibit is used for educational programs where keepers and researches present their work to student groups.

The RCAA is housed in a modern two-story building that unobtrusively gives the gorillas and chimpanzees center stage. Behind-the-scenes, state-of-the-art holding suites take the needs of keepers, researchers, and animals alike into account. The newly founded Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes is an integral part of the new facility.


The Center includes three indoor and outdoor exhibits accessible for public viewing; one auxilliary area with indoor and outdoor space for off-exhibit holding; animal holdings and keeper service areas; the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes, which includes offices for permanent staff and visiting researchers, and a conference room.

Space allocation in square meters:

useindoorsoutdoors     total exhibit    
accessible     total     accessible     total    



US$ 25.700,000 Construction Cost


1 July 2004


Beginning: Nov 2001

  • Conceptual Design and Program Development: CLRdesign, Inc., Philadelphia, PA
  • Exhibit Architect: pja architects + landscape architects, p.s., Seattle, WA
  • Interpretive Design: Lyons/Zaremba Inc., Boston, MA
  • Landscape Architect: AHBL, Tacoma, WA
  • Architect of Record: Lohan Caprile Goettsch Architects, Chicago, IL


Beginning: Nov 2002

  • General Contractor: Pepper Construction, Chicago, IL
  • Exhibit Contractor: The Larson Company, Tuscon, AZ
  • Caging Systems: A thru Z Consulting and Distributing Inc., Tuscon, AZ
  • Animal-activated devices: Technifex, Valencia, CA
  • Landscaping: Sebert Landscaping, Bartlett, IL


walter.gif This is a climatic diagram for the closest weather station.



The main landscape goal of the exhibit and visitor area plantings was to provide a lush backdrop for watching primates that could withstand the typical Chicago winter. Consulting with the Chicago Botanical Garden and the Morton Arboretum, the landscape architect determined a spectrum of plants that would be able to withstand the -10°C (down to -30°C) winter temperatures. In consultation with the zoo veterinarian, potentially toxic species were eliminated. Plants were then selected that best fit the “tropical” look of the African habitats of gorillas and chimpanzees.

A secondary landscape goal was to provide vegetative cover for the primates. This allows a sense of security and well-being without compromising the visitor viewing. A large number of grass species were used to create behavioral enrichment opportunities while also ensuring the longevity of the landscape.

The plant list specifies the Latin names of the plants used for this exhibit.


Each of the three main habitats contain a food-scatterer, an air fan and a shower spray. The devices are activated by the animals through motion or touch sensors. Heated logs, a warm mud bank, and a waterfall, give the animals a certain degree of climate control in the hot Chicago summers and cold winters while furthering year-round use of outdoor and indoor spaces. The chimpanzees also control an air-blower that is directed at the visitors. The air blower gives the apes a safe outlet for a behavior that can otherwise lead to throwing food or feces at visitors and instead allows for fun interaction between animal and humans.

Two artificial termite mounds are used for enrichment. The holes in the mounds are fitted with tubes of different length containing food treats. As in the wild, the chimps will have to learn through trial and error how to retrieve the treats with sticks. As they grow more adept, the staff will introduce tubes with more complicated shapes to continually challenge the apes.

A mechanical tree root can be bounced up and down by the chimpanzees. It encourages physical activity and agility and is expected to play a role in the dominance displays of the groups.

The exhibit design strives to give the animals a variety in exhibit furnishings for locomotion, exploration, and resting. Natural trees, shrubs, and grassy expanses are offered as well as various additional climbing opportunities through artificial trees, logs (several of which contain enrichtment cavities), bamboo, and artificial nests. A thick cover of mulch on the dayroom floors simulates a natural forest floor and is gentle on the ape's joints.


The outdoor spaces include service boxes with electrical outlets and hosebibs hidden in artifical trees for the convenience of cleaning and maintenance.

Other installations facilitate the close interaction between animals and keepers that is necessary with animals of this complex behavior. Each dayroom harbors a keeper niche that protrudes unobtrusively into the exhibits and allows for clear sightlines to all animal access doors. The keepers can control all animal-activated devices from the niches as well as the sliding glass walls and hand-operated sliding doors. The niches are enclosed by hard-wire mesh that allows the keepers to interact directly with the apes for training purposes.

Great care went into the lay-out of the 'animal traffic system' connecting holding suites, dayrooms, and outside exhibits. The keepers have complete control and flexibility to shift animals between bedroom suites and exhibits. Every unit has two entries/exits to enable shifting even when a dominant animal blocks access to different areas. Each bedroom suite is equipped with a blood-sleeve with height and size flexibility, as well as weigh-scales.

The modern food preparation area also houses the video monitors and controls that give the staff the ability to view all areas of the exhibits. The cameras also allow research staff to monitor the behavior of the troops.


The interpretive displays provide a better understanding and enjoyment of the animals and the exhibits. For the convenience of outdoor viewing, covered viewing shelters are located along the outdoor visitor paths.

In the interior space, exhibit furnishings such as logs, bamboo, and a buttress tree are brought into the visitor area, so guests can try to mimic the behavior of the great apes.

Visitors are offered a close-up view of animal training sessions on a scheduled basis by means of a panel which lifts to reveal the training space.


The central theme for the interpretive exhibits at the Regenstein Center for African Apes is learning. This theme was broken down into nine aspects of learning:

-- Visitors learning about apes -- Visitors learning about zookeepers caring for apes -- Apes learning from keepers at Lincoln Park Zoo -- Apes learning to be apes -- People learning about ourselves by understanding apes -- Zoo scientists learning about apes -- Zoo visitors helping the zoo learn about apes -- Field researchers learning about apes -- Visitors learning about conserving apes

The interpretive exhibits provide visitors with opportunities to explore, discover, and LEARN about great apes, their habitats and the efforts of Lincoln Park Zoo staff towards the research and conservation of these animals and their ecosystem. The following key messages are presented:

The care of “wild” places is no longer a matter of happenstance. Human population growth has changed the face of conservation. The exhibit highlights the amount of work needed to maintain a healthy population of great apes in captivity.

The Zoo does world-class, important work in animal management. We want our community to both feel proud of the Zoo and understand the nature of this work. The animal management efforts done at the Zoo will have applications for the management of wild populations of these same animals.

Apes are more than bush meat waiting to be cooked; they should be appreciated for their intrinsic value.

As parts of a complete ecosystem, all animals within that ecosystem are indicators of the health of the land.

Great apes are our closest living relatives and represent a living example of our evolutionary story.

Visitors should have a place where they can come and appreciate these animals in comfort and safety.


Gorillas and chimpanzees will be rotated on a routine basis between the exhibits and the auxiliary area for enrichment purposes.

The holding is extremely flexible, allowing the animals to be moved throughout the building, either through the bedroom suites or through the chute system that bypasses the suites.


The Regenstein Center was designed with cognitive and behavioral research in mind. A mezzanine as well as 13 video cameras allow for basic behavioral monitoring and post-occupancy evaluation without intruding on the visitor experience. Special windows constructed out of three triangular panes protrude into the exhibit. They can be entered from the mezzanine level allowing the researchers to observe the animals in areas that are hidden from view on the ground level. In five different locations computers equipped with touch screens and joysticks can be set up, so that the animals can interact with the researchers. The set-up will not only benefit research but it is also a very effective enrichment tool as the computers add mental stimulation for the apes. The touch-screens will be a new experience for all the animals.

Apes pose some of the greatest challenges to the design of habitats due to their size, strength and intelligence. Studies indicate that the complexity of an environment is as influential as habitat size when it comes to behavior patterns. The exhibits in the Regenstein Center for African Apes were constructed to foster natural behavior and to provide numerous opportunities for locomotion, feeding, and socialization that are typical of the individual species. An ongoing study will examine the ways chimpanzees and gorillas use their space, with the results helping scientists determine the success of exhibit elements such as climbing structures, vines, and live trees.

These studies will be carried out by members of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes whose cognitive/behavioral research branch is housed in the Regenstein Center building. The Lester E. Fisher Center commenced its operation officially with the opening of the Regenstein building and serves as a focal point for the diverse research programs of Lincoln Park Zoo. The Center's goal is to engage zoo visitors, members, and students in science and conservation initiatives through an integrated program of research, visitor and student science education, and conservation of wild populations. The key to the center's programs will be collaboration among the zoo's scientific programs and between those programs, other scientists and conservation biologists, and organizations such as the Jane Goodall Institute and the Moutain Gorilla Veterinary Program. The research at the Center focuses on cognitive psychology, field conservation, behavioral research, nutritional research, and epidemology.


Lincoln Park Zoo scientists work with partners and grantees on projects throughout Africa to help conserve wild apes. The scientists, in cooperation with the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), are conducting a baseline health-monitoring study of chimpanzees in Tanzania’s Gombe National Park. This study includes observational health data and fecal and urine sampling for diagnoses.

By developing baseline measures of health in the population, scientists can help park managers decide if and when to take action to treat a sick chimpanzee. In addition, zoo staff and the JGI investigate ways to prevent transmission of disease from humans to chimpanzees.

The zoo also supports young African scientists in several countries who lead conservation projects for chimpanzees, western lowland gorillas, and mountain gorillas. This helps groom a new generation of researchers as environmental decision-makers and strengthens conservation leadership in the countries where great apes live.

Although public concern for ape conservation is growing, no central clearinghouse exists for information about conservation projects and research sites. To help fill this gap Lincoln Park Zoo designed and maintains a comprehensive “Ape Conservation Database,” which organizes data on everything from scientific research projects to surveys of ape habitats.


51K + description229K
©Lincoln Park Zoo, 2005

32K + description97K
Site Plan
©PJA, 2004

Chimpanzee (1)
©Lincoln Park Zoo, 2004

100K + description377K
Aerial (2)
©Lincoln Park Zoo, 2004

117K + description487K
Dry Riverbed Exhibit (3)
©Lincoln Park Zoo, 2004

58K + description96K
Climbing Opportunities (4)
©PJA, Seattle, 2004

Glimpse of Gorilla (5)
©PJA, Seattle, 2004

62K + description99K
Gorilla Getting Vertical (6)
©PJA, Seattle, 2004

Close Observation of Male Gorilla (7)
©PJA, Seattle, 2004

59K + description93K
Drinker (8)
©Lincoln Park Zoo, 2004

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Encounter (9)
©PJA, Seattle, 2004

60K + description272K
Inside the building (10)
©Lincoln Park Zoo, 2004

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Observation Alcove (11)
©Lincoln Park Zoo, 2004

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Mezzanine Alcove (12)
©Lincoln Park Zoo, 2004

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Auxiliary Exhibit (13)
©PJA, Seattle, 2004

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View from the Viewing Shelter (14)
©PJA, Seattle, 2004

Entrance to RCAA (15)
©Lincoln Park Zoo, 2004

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Inside the building (16)
©Lincoln Park Zoo, 2004

74K + description92K
Dayroom (17)
©PJA, Seattle, 2004

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Monitors (18)
©Lincoln Park Zoo, 2005

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Veterinarian Aisle (19)
©Lincoln Park Zoo, 2005

69K + description267K
Holding (20)
©Lincoln Park Zoo, 2005

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Visitor View (21)
©PJA, Seattle, 2004

53K + description89K
Termite Fishing (22)
©PJA, Seattle, 2004

56K + description90K
Gorilla and Chimpanzee Busts and Hand Casts (23)
©PJA, Seattle, 2004

44K + description95K
A Day in the Life (24)
©PJA, Seattle, 2004

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Lester E. Fisher Center (25)
©Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, 2004



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Revised 2010-07-25
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