My boyfriend, his 7-year-old son and I recently signed up for the Sleepover with the Animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo. While some of us wondered how up-close and personal we would be able to get with the animals, at least one of us wondered how clean it would be sleeping on the floor of the Ape house and whether they would serve anything other than mac & cheese for dinner.
Our behind the scenes look at the Lincoln Park Zoo during Sleepover with the Animals turned out to be as much fun for the adults as the kids. With all there was to see and do, we didn’t ’t mind waking up early … which is good because chimpanzee Optimus Prime, baby gorillas Patty and Nayembi, and their impressive father Kwan were knocking on the windows urging us to greet the rising sun.
The evening began and ended at the Regenstein Center for African Apes where we spent the night with the chimpanzees and gorillas in their 29,000 square foot indoor/outdoor living room. (We stayed warm and dry inside.) They were nestled into hay beds with burlap blankets when we arrived, but we were warned: They’re entertaining … all night long.
Our group was small enough that every family got a window spot next to the Kovler Gorilla Bamboo Forest, the Strangler Fig Forest where the chimpanzees were “hanging out,” or the Dry Riverbed Valley where Kwan and the babies were settled in for the night.
Before the actual “sleep” part of the sleepover, though, there was a lot to see and do! Our first stop was a tasty dinner buffet at the Park Place Café. Next we were off on a trip through the Regenstein African Journey where cameos by some of the continent’s nocturnal animals and exercises for the kids delighted everyone. During a visit to the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, we built paper maché enrichment toys for the animals and willow wreaths for the birds; the kids were also given time to play on the climbing exhibit. The evening wrapped up with visit to at the Regenstein Small Mammal Reptile House for a scavenger hunt and tour of the kitchen (vegetarians: Beware the latter).
With lots of laughs and smiles, we made our way back to the Ape House for some quiet activities and snacks before lights out at 11. As families settled into their sleeping bags and drifted off, the monkeying around behind the glass got started. We were treated to some hooting and drumming by the chimpanzees before they settled down for the night and the building grew quiet.
The drumming started again with the sun and many members of our group woke up to curious faces pressed to the other side of the glass. Chimpanzees, gorillas and people were all mesmerized by each other’s morning rituals until the sleepover guests were called away to their own breakfast buffet and a morning visit to the McCormick Bird House. Our cold morning walk was rewarded with sights and sounds of some of the Zoo’s early risers – the puma, the lynx, a bald eagle and two snowy owls greeted us on our way to the Park Café.
The amazing Zoo staff was really well organized, informative and fun to talk with. Aside from registering in advance, the event requires very little planning. Pack an air mattress or mat and a warm sleeping bag. For winter events (they do this year round), dress warmly to move between exhibits. Don’t forget your PJs and your camera. And have fun!
The Zoo will host sleepovers with the animals again on February 21 and March 28. You can find more information at here.
Hero image credit: www.lpzoo.org/education/programs/sleepover-animals