A Publication of WTVP

Lions and tigers and bears! Oh, my! Actually, in this case, it’s more like, Monkeys and lions and gazelles! Oh, yes!

On June 6th, the Peoria Zoo will open its long-awaited Africa! exhibit, right in the heart of central Illinois.

The zoo staff has worked diligently for years to ensure that visitors to Africa! experience the feeling of a real African wilderness. The species selection actually began more than a decade ago! The staff took many criteria into consideration, including conservation importance, available captive knowledge and educational value of each species. Program managers were notified of the selected species far in advance so they could plan breeding and transfers that would help acquire the animals. Transportation can be a big problem for zoos, because many airlines won’t fly animals, and ground shipping can be difficult because of their size.

But all of this hard work has paid off for the Peoria Zoo—and residents and visitors to central Illinois, who will get to enjoy a bit of Africa starting this June.

The beginning of the exhibit offers a simulation of African grasslands and a replica of the Zambezi River. Home to six different species, invisible barriers make the experience more impactful. The white rhino, the endangered Grevy’s zebra, two 17-foot giraffes, Thomson’s gazelles, the gerenuk antelope and an African lion will hopefully be feeling social as visitors admire them from the boardwalk.

Continuing over the boardwalk, the temperature will drop as various forest-dwelling species appear. Here, red river hogs will bunk with Colobus monkeys. Next up is the endangered mandrill, with the blue and purple ridge on its nose, one of the largest species of monkeys in the world. The Aldabra tortoise and African crested porcupines are easy favorites for children and adults alike—be sure to stop and say hello.

The last stop, part of the Zambezi River Village, features many smaller species. The indoor exhibit is home to a large tree which houses many different small animals. Living inside the tree are zebra mice, Golden Taveta weavers, an African rock python, giant Zambian mole-rats, a pancake tortoise, dung beetles, hissing cockroaches, and Madagascar tree boas.

The new Africa! exhibit is sure to be a hit with Peoria citizens and visitors alike. According to Peoria Zoo Director Yvonne Strode, “The Africa! exhibit shows the support Peoria has always had for the Zoo. It’s an amazing exhibit, and people will be shocked—they will see things they have never seen before. We have spent a lot of time raising the money and planning for this exhibit, and we have created something that should please staff, visitors and the animals. We can’t wait to share it!” Likewise, we can’t wait to see it! 


COLOBUS MONKEYS Maude, Tana, Scout, Cody and Kitale came from the Central Park Zoo in New York. These monkeys have long hair and coats of black and white. They like to leap between the trees by using their hair, parachuting it out to help them slow down.

Casey, a female African lion, is the first lion at the Peoria Zoo since 2006.

THOMSON’S GAZELLES These four amazing animals traveled all the way from the Bronx Zoo and can grow to nearly four feet long, two feet tall, and weigh up to 60 pounds. They will now share a home with the gerenuk and the giraffe.

RED RIVER HOGS Also known as bush pigs, two females, Sultana and Athena, also came from the Bronx Zoo. Art, a male hog, came from the Los Angeles Zoo. His snout has ridges and warts, as well as bushy facial hair. Males’ upper tusks are so small they are practically invisible, but the lower tusks are extremely sharp and grow to three inches long.

GREVY ZEBRA Another favorite, Hogan traveled from Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. This endangered species, the largest zebra species, can weigh over 1,000 pounds and be up to nine feet long and 5 ½ feet high. They eat grasses, tender shoots, leaves, bark, buds and fruit.

GIRAFFES Always a crowd pleaser, male giraffes Taj and Elon came from the Indianapolis Zoo, the first giraffes to make their home at the Peoria Zoo. When they reach full size, they may weigh 3,800 pounds.

WHITE RHINOS Leo and Harris came from the North Carolina Zoo, but don’t let their names fool you—they aren’t actually white. Their name comes from the African word weit, meaning “wide,” referring to their large mouths. They can weigh between 3,500 and 6,000 pounds, are 11 to 13 feet long, and stand five to six feet tall. They live from
25 to 45 years.

GERENUK ANTELOPE The Peoria Zoo welcomes two male gerenuks, Chad and Ben. The word gerenuk comes from the Somali language and means “giraffe-necked.” They eat leaves by standing on their hind legs and stretching out their long necks toward tall bushes. Gerenuks are active during the day and live from 10 to 12 years.

AFRICAN ROCK PYTHON You can find this python in the small-animal building, hiding in the grasslands and savannas. It averages 18 to 30 feet in length and can be around 150 to 250 pounds, making it the largest snake in Africa. The python is very solitary, living and hunting alone. They eat rodents, small antelopes, warthogs, dogs, monkeys, goats, crocodiles and more, and can live up to 30 years in captivity.

TAVETA GOLDEN WEAVERS These small yellow birds have short, heavy beaks and green wings and tails, with chestnut patches on their nape and neck. They weave elaborate nests, so carefully constructed that it is difficult to remove even a single strand from the nest. Two males came from the Lee Richardson Zoo in Kansas, and two females came from the Oakland Zoo.