Brookfield, Shedd Take Visitors to African Rain Forest, the Amazon River

Article excerpt

This summer the Brookfield Zoo and Shedd Aquarium take visitors on a journey to the far corners of the Earth with their new exhibits.

The Ituri Forest, located in central Africa's Democratic Republic of Congo, is nearly two-thirds the size of the state of Illinois and is the focus for the Brookfield Zoo's new permanent exhibit, "Habitat Africa! The Forest."

Through stories, cultures and shared perspectives of those who actually live and work in the Ituri Forest, guests learn about the relationship among plants, animals and people that inhabit this region.

The journey begins with a path through dense vegetation at the forest's edge where sunlight allows new plants to grow. Nearly 545 trees and 775 shrubs have been combined with man-made elements and landscaping to make guests feel as if they are standing in the middle of a rain forest.

The first animal that guests meet is the African lungfish. This prehistoric-looking creature has lungs that allow it to breathe air out of water. In times of drought, the fish secretes mucus to protect its skin, then buries itself in the mud of a streambed until it rains and the water level is replenished.

After an area where visitors learn about the local people in the Ituri Forest, there is an okapi. Also known as the forest giraffe, the okapi is found only in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. It has a brown hide and distinctive stripes on its hindquarters. The okapi is no stranger to Brookfield. In 1959, the first okapi birth in North America occurred at Brookfield Zoo.

Next is the yellow-backed duiker (antelope). The largest of several species of duiker, its existence in the Ituri Forest is important because it is a food source for the people. To hunt duiker, the people of Ituri make long nets to catch the animals.

From here guests go inside a building that simulates the deepest part of the forest. Here, only about one percent of sunlight reaches the forest's floor. In addition to the vines, ferns and trees, there is a dwarf crocodile, Lady Ross' turaco, blue duiker, African giant millipedes, emperor scorpions, ball python, hingeback tortoise, panther chameleon and African giant rats. …