Hamill Family Wild Encounters: A Sensory Experience

People choose to protect what they care about. When it comes to preserving species, it is incredibly important to help others form a positive connection to wildlife and nature. This connection can manifest in many forms and it often starts by having a personal experience with an animal.


Hamill Family Wild Encounters is an exhibit here at Brookfield Zoo that is designed to give visitors of all ages the opportunity for hands-on and close-up experiences with certain animals. Much more than a petting zoo, this exhibit encourages guests to primarily use the five senses (touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste) to engage with these animals in a meaningful manner. When used appropriately, these senses can create unforgettable memories and inspire a lifelong love of nature.

Here’s how to have a full sensory experience at Wild Encounters:

Visitors frequently ask the question: does Brookfield Zoo have a petting zoo? Wild Encounters is an area where we do allow guests to touch certain species of animals, but we give all animals the choice of whether or not they want to participate. Animals have access to both public and private sections of their enclosures, which allows them the flexibility to decide when they want to engage with visitors and when they need some quiet time. Allowing the animals to make these choices on their own terms is an important part of maintaining their health and high quality of life. Visitors have the chance to touch goats, wallabies, parakeets, and various other animal ambassadors that make spontaneous appearances in Wild Encounters for zoo chats. Many of these encounters are weather/seasonally dependent, so there is no guarantee that certain ambassadors will be visible during your visit.


If you’ve dreamed of brushing a goat, petting a wallaby, or letting a parakeet land on your hand, this is your chance to make that dream a reality!

Wild Encounters is a highly visual experience. There is no shortage of eye-catching signage, artistic sculptures, or animals to watch. Even if you cannot touch all the animals that live in this section of the zoo, they are certainly enjoyable to observe from a distance. You can expect to see goats, llamas, alpacas, reindeer, wallabies, parakeets, and a red panda on exhibit. During the summer, there are frequent zoo chats with appearances from animal ambassadors that live behind the scenes. Make sure to check out the zoo’s summertime ‘Zoo Chat’ schedule board posted at both the North and South Gate entrances of the zoo when you arrive to know when certain ambassadors will be out.


The world of animals can be loud but in a good way! Over 800 parakeets call Wild Encounters their home, and they love to vocalize. It is natural for parakeets to congregate in large numbers, communicate through vocalizing, and fly as one unit. Their symphony of sounds will make you feel like a part of the flock. Once you step outside the doors of the parakeet aviary, your ears might pick up on the more subtle sounds that other animals make. You could hear the goats making their gentle bleating calls, reindeer snuffling around, or the snort of a llama or alpaca.


Any place that an animal lives can carry some type of odor. Smell is a powerful trigger for many people, and when used correctly it can create a sense of nostalgia and happy memories. The smell of a goat yard might remind people of their beloved childhood visits to petting zoos or farmyards, which in turn might strengthen the relationship between people and the animals they meet when visiting Wild Encounters. Even though some smells are more enjoyable than others, they all carry the potential to create connections.

Saying that you will use your sense of taste at Wild Encounters seems silly, and it should. When we say ‘taste’, we don’t mean that YOU will be tasting anything, we mean the animals will! This exhibit gives you the opportunity to purchase pellets to feed the goats and seed sticks to feed the parakeets. Offering the animals a snack encourages them to trust you, and you get up close and personal with them in return.


We believe in the power of connection. Now more than ever, it is important for people to build a respectful relationship with wildlife. This positive relationship is a building block for the foundation that is required in order to protect and preserve species and their native habitats. It is our hope that Wild Encounters will be a stimulating experience for your senses and will also inspire you to become an advocate for conservation.

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Posted: 3/9/2020 12:19:08 PM by Sean Keeley

CZS & Brookfield Zoo

Since the opening of Brookfield Zoo in 1934, the Chicago Zoological Society has had an international reputation for taking a cutting-edge role in animal care and conservation of the natural world. Learn more about the animals, people, and research that make up CZS here at our blog.


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