By CINDY LADAGE
CHICAGO, Ill. — Barns with the Chicago skyline behind them is a startling sight in downtown Chicago; in this section at the Lincoln Park Zoo, city kids can learn all about farming and what life is like outside the urban sprawl.
The barns and farm theme are part of Farm-in-the-Zoo. Set in the 35-acre Lincoln Park Zoo, the Farm-in-the-Zoo offers an array of farm animals. They include cows, sheep, chickens, pigs and ponies and goats.
Inside the main barn children can take part in interactive exhibits such as “hatching out” of an oversized egg. The Farming & Weather Station lets guests experience the rush of a tornado, the crackle of lightning and the rumble of thunder.
It is in the Dairy Barn that Chicago kids and other visitors see goats and cows and learn about the milking process. Seasonal exhibits such as the Edible Garden give them a chance to experience hands-on lessons on the origins of food. This educational exhibit enhances recognition of the importance of agriculture for those who don’t have a chance to make many farm connections.
The Farm-in-the-Zoo is just part of the Lincoln Park Zoo experience. Animals from all over the world are available to watch – enjoy the African Journey, for example, which draws millions of visitors each year to see the animals that live in four distinct habitats.
For those looking for a “grizzly” adventure, check out the Robert R. McCormick Bear Habitat, where visitors find a variety of bears from the Andean to the polar. Chicagoan Linda Spanberger’s favorite was the Malayan Sun bear, who, when she visited in mid-April, was lying on his back and enjoying a snack.
The playful animal seems like a teddy bear until one gets a view of his several-inch-long claws. “I wouldn’t take any food away from him,” Spanberger mused.
The Lincoln Park Zoo offers one of the largest polar bear exhibits in the world, complete with a 266,000-gallon pool and underwater viewing windows.
One of the oldest exhibits is the Kovler Lion House built in 1912. The cats inside this historic landmark won’t come to “kitty, kitty, kitty,” but they are pretty just to view. The cats include African lions, Amur tigers, leopards from Asia and Africa, a jaguar from South America and even a snow leopard from the Himalayas.
Back in the Farm-in-the-Zoo, a popular bird is the barn owl. They have speckled, reddish-brown bodies and white, heart-shaped faces. A large bird, they can approach 18 inches in height, and the females are slightly larger than their male counterparts.
Barn owls are a species located on almost every continent. Here in Illinois the barn owl is considered an endangered species because of the loss of food supply and nesting sites – ironically, as the result of agriculture.
The farm portion of the zoo also includes ponies. Visitors learn they are descendants of wild horses, with thicker manes, tails and coats. The ponies also sport shorter legs and stockier frames. There are many breeds, displaying varied physical traits; Lincoln Park Zoo exhibits Shetland and pinto ponies.
Both city kids and country kids will find something to enjoy at the Lincoln Park Zoo. If heading to the Windy City anytime soon, keep this destination in mind and log onto the “Plan Your Visit” link of the website at www.lpzoo.org for details.