Contact: Sondra Katzen
Public Relations

Mary Ann MacLean Conservation Leadership Center Fact Sheet

  • Provide a space to conduct school, group, and teacher programs that inspire people to conserve, protect, and restore wildlife and their habitats.
  • Give zoo staff a common area to work on conservation initiatives and projects, creating an atmosphere of cooperation and synergy.
  • Salvage Brookfield Zoo’s historic Reptile House building and modernize it with green technology and conservation-minded construction.

Programs Featured in the New Space

School, Group, and Teacher Programs

These programs provide educational opportunities for a wide audience, from preschool children to teachers of all grade levels, as well as opportunities to earn graduate credits and to earn a graduate degree in biology.
  • Connection Classes—Students from preschool through high school explore a wide series of topics, including animal survival, critter coverings, wetland wonders, animal behaviors, ecosystems, and primate populations. Classroom presentations offer hands-on experiences, experiments, songs, live animals, and expert facilitators.
  • Teacher Programs—Workshops, classes, exhibit previews, and zoo experiences all provide professional development opportunities for teachers and enrich educators’ classroom curricula. As the Chicago Zoological Society is an approved Illinois State Board of Education provider, continuing education credits are offered. Additionally, graduate credits are offered through an academic partnership with Aurora University, National Louis University, and Benedictine University.
  • Levels of Engagement/Centers for Science Excellence—Teachers of all experience levels learn how to inspire their students to become conservation leaders through an improved understanding of scientific principles. Levels of Engagement is designed to be an inclusive learning process, meeting teachers’ self-identified skill-building requirements by offering a selection of learning opportunities for everyone from the novice to the advanced educator.
  • Advanced Inquiry Program Master’s Degree—The Advanced Inquiry Program (AIP) is an inquiry-driven learning experience allowing participants to take classes in person from faculty at Brookfield Zoo and online from Miami University (Ohio) to earn a master’s degree in biology or an MAT in teaching biological sciences. The opportunity to earn seven credits from international travel is another facet of the program.
  • School Field Trips—Illinois schoolchildren and their teachers and chaperones are welcome to school field trips free of charge. Brookfield Zoo serves as a living classroom for students studying the many dimensions of animals, animal husbandry, animal behavior, exhibits and exhibit design, and plants of the Midwest.

The NatureStart initiative uses innovative educational approaches, research, and institutional partnerships to increase connections between young children and the natural world. Through NatureStart, early childhood educators in zoos, aquariums, nature centers, and conservation organizations across the globe receive training to provide educational nature play experiences for children and families.

Interpretive Programs
Interpretive Programs manages, supervises, and delivers many public engagement initiatives throughout the zoo, such as the public interpretation of Dolphin Presentations. This program also supervises community engagement and inclusion programs and seasonal Roving Naturalists; trains staff in interpretation; plans exhibit interpretation; plans and schedules the seasonal Zoo Chat program; and assists in the development of written interpretation. In addition, Interpretive Programs develops and manages Backstage Adventures, during which guests participate in behind-the-scenes programs that highlight animal care ethics and strategies.

Subscription Programs
The Zoo Camp program welcomes more than 1,700 campers (age 4 to 14) and their families to Brookfield Zoo each summer. Through the summer months, campers explore zoo grounds, visit animal exhibits, design experiments, and enjoy traditional camp games and crafts. Throughout the year, scout groups can spend the night and experience Brookfield Zoo after it closes. All guests earn a patch to celebrate spending a night with the animals.

International Conservation Leadership Programs
  • The Global Conservation Leadership Program for Youth-Guyana—Guyana’s forests are facing threats from large-scale agriculture, mining, hunting, and oil exploitation. Dr. Ricardo Stanoss leads efforts to train former members of Guyana’s Makushi Wildlife Clubs—an afterschool program for local children age 8 to 18—in the scientific process, job readiness, and wildlife monitoring so that they may enter the conservation field.
  • The Global Conservation Leadership Program for Youth-Botswana—Dr. Ricardo Stanoss is working with Elephants for Africa—an elephant conservation, research, and education organization—to engage schoolchildren and their mentors in villages around Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans National Park in monitoring projects. The students solve challenges relevant to them and their families in this area, which has the country’s highest human-elephant conflict.
  • Amphibian Conservation—Hermina's poison frog is an endangered amphibian species, and CZS is working with the Terrario de Caracas in Venezuela to determine how this endangered species reproduces. This project focuses on studying the possibility of an experimental reintroduction of Hermina’s poison frogs. It also serves as training for scientists who will develop protocols necessary for breeding other species of the same family.
  • Capacity Building in Latin America—The Chicago Zoological Society is working to establish early childhood nature education training throughout Latin America in collaboration with the Latin American Zoo and Aquarium Association (ALPZA). A Pan-American consortium of training centers will strengthen the ability of partner zoos to provide culturally relevant, developmentally appropriate programming. NatureStart International has also reached into the communities around Punta San Juan, Peru, where the Society has been involved in conservation and veterinary research since 2007.
  • CZS Chicago Board of Trade Endangered Species Fund—Through its Chicago Zoological Society CBOT Endangered Species Endowment Fund, the Chicago Board of Trade helps conservation efforts by providing seed money to organizations and individuals focused on protecting wildlife. This initial funding is crucial for efforts aimed at increasing scientific knowledge and saving endangered species and their habitats.

Audience Research
The Audience Research Department regularly collects over 5,000 visitor surveys on an annual basis. The department supports a "fact-based" approach to organizational decision-making for various operational and mission initiatives.

Volunteer Program
The Chicago Zoological Society engages citizens in volunteerism initiatives that inspire conservation leadership. More than 550 volunteers contribute an average of 65,000 service hours annually. Our volunteers serve the Society as Guest Guide volunteers, ZOOper volunteers, and docents and serve in the Good Works/Bridges Program and the Conservation Science Scholars Program for teens.

Good Works and Bridges
The Good Works program helps high school students with cognitive, developmental, and physical disabilities to develop job skills for future employment through volunteer positions at Brookfield Zoo. Bridges is a similar program for adults who no longer receive services through the school system. Individuals are paired with job coaches and volunteer at the zoo to develop vocational and social skills.

Conservation Science Scholars
The Conservation Science Scholars brings together high school students to learn about nature, science, and conservation while they develop social, public speaking, and professional skills. The Scholars participants engage guests in conversation about animals and conservation. They explore conservation activity and stewardship in the community, delve into science research with zoo staff, and assist with special events.

College Experiential Learning Opportunities (CELO)
Each year, the College Experiential Learning Opportunities (CELO) program offers experiences for professional growth—paid and unpaid internships, work-study positions, and externships—for more than 50 individuals at Brookfield Zoo. New experiences are constantly developed in many areas, from zookeeper jobs to other types of positions in the fields of education, administration, and conservation science.

Education Science Research
Led by CZS staff, the Climate Literacy Zoo Education Network (CliZEN) is a partnership of zoo educators, climate scientists, and conservation psychologists across the United States. This coalition is pioneering new approaches to educating the public about climate change and fostering changes in public attitudes.

Great Lakes
In 2007, CZS cofounded the Zoo and Aquarium Partnership for the Great Lakes (ZAPGL), a collaboration of zoos, aquariums, and nongovernmental organizations. ZAPGL inspires visitors to these institutions to conserve the Great Lakes ecosystem, which suffers from pollution and low water levels. One outcome of ZAPGL is My Water Footprint (, an interactive tool that integrates social media to inform participants about water conservation issues and to motivate them to make a water pledge.

Sarasota Dolphin Research Program
The world’s longest study of wild dolphins—the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, begun in 1970—spans three academic generations of researchers, as well as graduate students and volunteers. The focus is on bottlenose dolphins residing in Sarasota Bay, Florida. The program provides information on population structure, population dynamics, human-dolphin interactions, and other data for use in dolphin conservation and care. In recent years, the program has expanded to provide assistance to international colleagues developing research and conservation initiatives in their own countries.

Population Biology Program
The Population Biology Program includes areas of basic research, development of better tools for managing animal populations in zoos, the training of professionals in methods for species risk assessments and management, and assistance to species conservation programs around the world. To assist with conservation of wild populations, the program has developed population modeling software that provides projections about the likely fates of endangered species and uses it to advise governmental agencies and conservation organizations.

The Mary Ann MacLean Conservation Leadership Center, which cost $5.5 million and created more than 200 construction-related jobs, is made possible thanks to the generosity of many donors: The Christopher Family Foundation, Sandy and Glen Dittus, Illinois Jobs Now Capital Construction Program—Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Yvonne Johnson, Connie and Dennis Keller, Mary Ann and Barry MacLean, Northern Trust, and the Public Museum Capital Grants Program—Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois State Museum. Thanks also go to the Society’s Board of Trustees, Governing Members, and Women’s Board and to the Forest Preserves of Cook County.

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