Brookfield Zoo receives historic $40 million gift

A new primate habitat is being built at the Brookfield Zoo. Gorillas, orangutans and other monkeys will have a new 2-acre, indoor/outdoor living space.

Brookfield Zoo announced Tuesday it has received a $40 million donation -- the largest single private gift in the organization’s history.

The anonymous donation will support the ongoing construction of Tropical Forests, an indoor and outdoor complex for Brookfield’s great apes, as well as a series of new animal habitats that will be revealed in a master plan slated for release in early 2024, zoo leaders said.

“This gift bolsters our ability to create an exceptional future for Brookfield Zoo as we approach our centennial celebration in 2034,” Dr. Michael Adkesson, the zoo’s director, said in a statement.

With Brookfield on the cusp of its 100th anniversary, zoo officials have been working with Chicago-based architecture firm Booth Hansen and Jones & Jones, the Seattle-based firm responsible for the Dublin Zoo’s “Gorilla Rainforest,” to redesign exhibits and visitor attractions across the 235-acre campus. The plan also will focus on Brookfield’s conservation work and field research.

“Zoos play a critical role in connecting people to wildlife and nature. This donation will enable us to execute our ambitious plans for Brookfield Zoo and its important role as a conservation organization committed to protecting and preserving endangered species around the globe,” said Adkesson, president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society, the nonprofit that runs the zoo. “While the donor wishes to remain anonymous, their commitment to our shared vision of a brighter future for wildlife and humanity shines brightly,” Adkesson said.

The zoo’s troop of critically endangered western lowland gorillas now live inside Tropic World, a 40-year-old primate building with rainmaking machines, concrete floors and slabs of artificial rock.

A $66 million project is transforming undeveloped acreage adjacent to Tropic World into lush, outdoor primate habitats “that are just absolutely spectacular from a design standpoint,” Adkesson said earlier this summer.

Tropical Forests will be home to the family gorilla troop -- led by Jontu the silverback -- orangutans and monkeys. Brookfield also plans to welcome a bachelor group of gorillas -- a first for the 89-year-old zoo.

The zoo is expected to unveil further details in early 2024 about the master plan and its “Next Century Campaign.” The zoo has not yet moved to the public phase of fundraising.