Feed a giraffe, hang with a sea lion for an afternoon, get close enough to smooch a coyote. Sounds like bits from a kid’s ultimate bucket list, right? Make their dreams come true with wildlife encounters at Chicago’s zoos, aquariums and an animal rescue park. Read on, take notes and prepare to take a walk on the wild side.

photo: Brookfield Zoo

Brookfield Zoo Giraffe Feeding

Although they spend much of their day grazing, giraffes have never been known to say no to a meal. Twice a day throughout the summer, kids can stop by Habitat Africa: The Savannah to deliver delicious greens the giraffes will take right from their hand.

Brookfield Zoo, 3300 Golf Rd., Brookfield
Hours: May 29-Oct. 3, daily & Oct. 9-Oct. 31, weekends only; 10:30 a.m.-noon & 1 p.m.-2:30 p.m.
Cost: No additional cost
Online: czs.org

photo: Maria Chambers

Brookfield Zoo's Hamill Family Wild Encounters

Covering just over 3-acres, Brookfield Zoo’s Hamill Family Wild Encounters features unforgettable hands-on experiences that include opportunities to touch and feed animals. Purchase seed sticks and play feeder to hundreds of colorful parakeets that happily land on your hand, watch the kids giggle as goats nibble on their shoelaces and experience the friendliness of wallabies as they welcome you into their enclosure. There are also up-close encounters with red pandas, llamas, alpacas and reindeer as well as a rotating selection of animal ambassadors.

Brookfield Zoo, 3300 Golf Road, Brookfield
Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Cost: general admission plus additional $6/adults, $3/ages 3-11
Online: czs.org

Oceans of Fun Aquatic Adventure

The drive to Milwaukee is worth it to take part in Ocean of Fun's 60-minute Aquatic Adventure experience. You'll go behind the scenes and learn about marine animals, animal adaptations, training techniques and steps you can take to protect animals in the wild. Kids ages 6 and above are given the opportunity to touch, feed, interact with, and train the seals or sea lions. 

Oceans of Fun, 10001 W. Bluemound Rd., Milwaukee
Hours: Saturdays, May-October
Cost: $300/ages 6 & up
Online: oceansoffun.org

Virtual Shark Feeding with Shedd Aquarium

Join the ocean's most dynamic and misunderstood predators—sharks—and other marine predators for brunch via a live virtual tour with Shedd Aquarium. During this 40-minute tour, you'll learn how Shedd's aquarists prepare meals, discover how shark and ray species in Wild Reef have been trained to respond during mealtimes and what it takes to feed and care for these amazing creatures.

Virtual with Shedd Aquarium
Hours: Sat. & Sun., 10 a.m.
Cost: $49.95, discount for members
Online: sheddaquarium.org

Coyote Connection at Cosley Zoo

Cosley Zookeepers take you behind the scenes to visit their coyote up close and observe a training session. Learn about the important role coyotes play in their environment and how humans and coyotes can safely coexist. Sign up in the Wild Side Gift Shop during your zoo visit or call 630-665-5534 to make a reservation.

Cosley Zoo, `1356 N. Gary, Wheaton
Hours: Daily, 1 p.m.-1:30 p.m.
Cost: $18/person
Online: cosleyzoo.org

Animal Trails at Wildlife Prairie Park

At Wildlife Prairie Park, you'll find 60 different species and over 150 animals that are native to the midwest region. Many of their animals were rescued and could not be released back into the wild. Walk the 1.5-mile walking trail that will take you through the woods to see wildlife in the natural environments. The enclosures you'll see along the way were made to be as close to their native habitats as possible.

Wildlife Prairie Park, 3826 N. Taylor Rd., Hanna City
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
Cost: $9/ages 12 & up & $6/ages 3-12
Online: wildlifeprairiepark.org

—Maria Chambers

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