LINCOLN PARK — Despite the rain, a handful of Chicagoans visited the Lincoln Park Zoo Thursday to see the black-footed South African penguins swim and waddle through the zoo's new outdoor penguin exhibit for the first time.
A few kids greeted the penguins by pressing their hands up against the glass and squealing with delight as the birds swam by Thursday morning.
It marked the first time since the deteriorating Kovler Penguin-Seabird House closed in 2011 that visitors were able to see penguins at the zoo.
The new 3,350-square-foot exhibit, dubbed the Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove, not only offers more room for the penguins to roam around, but it also offers more rocky and sandy areas, as well as deep pools for swimming.
The new South African penguins "have a much wider range of temperatures they can live with, which works really well in Chicago," unlike the Antarctic-native rockhopper penguins in the previous exhibit, according to Dave Bernier, general curator at the zoo.
“With the Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove comes an incredible opportunity and responsibility to connect visitors with nature and demonstrate the effects of human-wildlife interactions,” Megan Ross, vice president of animal care at the zoo, said in a prepared statement. “This unique, endangered species shares the South African beaches with humans and cannot survive without our help.”
Building a new penguin exhibit is part of the zoo's multimillion dollar improvement plan, the Chicago Pride Campaign.
The zoo is also building a huge new polar bear exhibit, which will open it to the public sometime this fall. Earlier this year, the zoo renovated the Kovler Seal Pool. A new learning center, visitor center and upgrades to the main mall and west gate are in the works.
[All photos DNAinfo/Mina Bloom]
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here.