Ice Age Megafauna Exhibit Opens at Brookfield Zoo

            Ice Age Giants, an exhibit featuring over thirty life-sized animatronic facsimiles of megafauna from the Ice Age has opened at the Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo in west suburban Brookfield, Illinois.  The heads, eyes, mouths, and tails of these animatrons make lifelike movements.  The gigantic animals these animatrons represent inhabited prehistoric North America and Eurasia and include a fifteen-foot-tall wooly mammoth, an eighteen-foot-long mastodon, a twenty-foot-long giant ground sloth, a ten-foot-long giant rodent, a twelve-foot-tall bird, an eleven-foot-long short-faced bear, a ten-foot-tall giant ape, and a five-foot-long saber-toothed cat.   Fossils of at least some of these animals can be seen at The Field Museum of Natural History, so if a one’s children seem particularly interested in Ice Age Giants at the Brookfield Zoo, one should take them to see the exhibit Griffin Halls of Evolving Planet at The Field Museum and vice versa. 

Ice Age Giants is a temporary exhibit like Dinos & Dragons, which featured seventeen animatronic dinosaurs and dragons, as well as a real Komodo dragon and other reptiles, in 2017; Brick Safari, which featured over forty life-sized sculptures, comprised of 1,600,000 LEGO® bricks, in 2019; and Dinos Everywhere!, which featured over forty animatronic dinosaurs, in 2020.  As with those other temporary exhibits, there is no additional cost to see Ice Age Giants.  It opened on Friday, April 1, A.D. 2022 and runs through Sunday, October 30, A.D. 2022. 

There is a five-foot-long photo-op shelter in the form of a Glyptodon shell.  Glyptodons were relatives of modern armadillos and measured approximately eleven feet long from the head to the tip of the tail.

Colorful placards convey such facts about the creatures in question as where they lived, their measurements, and how they compare to modern relatives. 

Figure 1 Credit: Cathy Bazzoni/Chicago Zoological Society-Brookfield Zoo Caption: This is an animatronic macrauchenia (pronounced mac-rah-KEY-nee-uh).  Scientists believe migrating species from North America drove the South American macrauchenia to extinction. Fossil evidence suggests newcomers quickly ate the available food and left the macrauchenia hungry and vulnerable to predators. Genetic evidence suggests the macrauchenia was related to modern tapirs, rhinos, and horses.

Figure 2 Credit: Cathy Bazzoni/Chicago Zoological Society-Brookfield Zoo Caption: This is an animatronic mastodon (pronounced MAS-tuh-dawn) at Brookfield Zoo.  The massive mastodon, which weighed up to 17,000 pounds, neared extinction about 10,000 years ago. Evidence suggests that diminishing food sources—shrubbery and leaves—due to warming temperatures, made it impossible for the massive animal to survive.

Figure 3 Credit: Cathy Bazzoni/Chicago Zoological Society-Brookfield Zoo Caption: This is an animatronic castoroides (pronounced cast-ah-ROY-dez).  The castoroides measured up to 7½ feet long and could weigh up to 300 pounds.  It looked like a giant beaver. Across the Midwest, rising temperatures caused struggling plants to adapt. As a result, the castoroides’ normal food source no longer contained enough nutrients to keep its massive body going. Without adequate food sources, the species went extinct about 11,500 years ago.

Figure 4 Credit: Cathy Bazzoni/Chicago Zoological Society-Brookfield Zoo Caption: This is an animatronic smilodon (pronounced SMI-luh-dawn).  A smilodon was a saber-toothed cat, became extinct almost 10,000 years ago most likely due to changing climate and the arrival of early humans. Famous for its 11-inch incisors and mouth that opened nearly 180 degrees, this fearsome cat experienced competition for food from humans hunting in their habitat.

Figure 5 Credit: Cathy Bazzoni/Chicago Zoological Society-Brookfield Zoo Caption: This is an animatronic wonambi (pronounced woe-NAM-bee).  Experts believe warming temperatures were the demise of the wonambi, a giant constrictor that measured between 16 and 20 feet long. Around the world, modern reptiles face similar threats.

Figure 6 Credit: Cathy Bazzoni/Chicago Zoological Society-Brookfield Zoo Caption: Approximately 11,700 years ago, the last teratornis (pronounced ter-run-TOR-nis) soared through the sky. This raptor-like bird with a wingspan between 10½  and 12½  feet wide, needed to fly for extended periods in search of food. Increasing temperatures forced some of the bird’s favorite aquatic foods into deeper waters, forcing the hungry flying giant to search for food on land. However, once that happened, the teratornis was hunted by humans.

Don Lessem, C.E.O. of Dino Don, Inc. created the exhibit.  He has written about forty popular science books for children.  Mr. Lessem has participated in digs and the reconstruction of fossilized skeletons, including the 110-foot-long Argentinosaurus and forty-five-foot-long Gigantosaurus.  The Lessemsaurus is named after him. 

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Lessem was a scientific advisor for Steven Spielberg for making Jurassic Park (1993) and for Disney as well as Universal theme parks.  He also created the traveling exhibit Jurassic Park: Fact or Fiction.  In addition, he created the traveling exhibit The Real Genghis Khan, which has been seen by approximately 2,000,000 people.  The sponsor of Ice Age Giants at Brookfield Zoo is Duly Health and Care (stylized “duly”), the organization that formerly had the more sensible name DuPage Medical Group.

The exhibit is sure to be popular with the young fans of the Ice Age animated films.  Blue Sky Studios made and 20th century Fox released Ice Age (2002), Ice Age: The Melt Down (2006), Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009), Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012), and Ice Age: Collision Course (2016).  The Walt Disney Company shut down Blue Sky Studios in 2021 after it purchased 21st Century Fox from the Murdoch family in 2019.  Before it shut down, Blue Sky made Ice Age: Scrat Tales (2022), a series of shorts, that Disney posted on the Disney+ streaming platform.  Walt Disney Pictures produced the film The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild (2022) without the involvement of Blue Sky and posted it on Disney+.

Admission to Brookfield Zoo is $24.95 for adults, $17.95 for children (ages three-to-eleven), and $19.95 for senior citizens (sixty-five-and-over).  Parking is $15. 

The Chicago Zoological Society is a private, non-profit organization that operates Brookfield Zoo on land owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.  It is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. The Brookfield Zoo met the American Humane Association’s rigorous standards for the care and welfare of animals to become the world’s first zoo to receive Humane Certified™ certification.

The Brookfield Zoo is open every day of the year.  It is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with extended hours of 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

The Brookfield Zoo is located between the Stevenson Expressway (I-55) to the south and Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) to the north and is also accessible via the TriState Tollway (I-294).  The North Gate Main Entrance address is 8400 West 31st Street, Brookfield, Illinois 60513.  The South Gate Main Entrance address is 3300 Golf Road, Brookfield, Illinois 60513.  A train station, the Hollywood (Zoo Stop) on Metra’s B.N.S.F. line, is a few blocks to the south of the South Gate entrance.  The Website is www.czs.org/Brookfield-ZOO/Home.

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