Nestled in Southern California’s Coachella Valley is an unusual place called The Living Desert, an exceptional and interactive zoo that weaves desert wildlife and botanical gardens from North America and Africa. It dedicates itself to providing environmental education, rehabilitation of native animals and restoration of the habitat of the Sonoran Desert. The area comprises 1,200 acres with 450 animals, many of which roam in wide-open spaces rather than in confined areas. Here are some of the great highlights to see when visiting one of America’s most unique zoos.
The exhibit represents all four of the continent’s deserts and features animals that thrive in these harsh and unforgiving conditions.
Due to the extreme temperatures of the desert, visitors have a chance to see small animals that are usually active at night, such as scorpions, lizards, bats and owls. The bighorn sheep have a mountain all to themselves, though it maybe difficult to spot them because they blend in so well with the desert landscape. Eagle Canyon hosts the majestic golden eagle whose wingspan can reach up to eight feet, making it the fifth longest in the animal kingdom. It’s a rare but wonderful opportunity to see these impressive birds of prey up-close. A bobcat, mountain lion and the endangered Mexican wolf also represent the mammals that live in canyon lands.
The zoo’s staff members also walk around the park and educate visitors about the desert animals they have with them. One gave a talk about armadillos, explaining its walking pattern, its food and how it curls into a ball if a person picks it up.
The botanical gardens of North America reflect different geographical regions, such as the Upper Colorado and the Chichuahuan Desert in the Big Bend area of Texas. In the spring, these gardens transform into a tapestry of vibrant colors, especially in the Humming Bird Garden, which attracts a large number of these little, energetic birds. “It feels like living in a different world,” one zoo personnel explained.
The Endangered Species Carousel, which represents 30 different animals at The Living Desert, is fun entertainment for kids and parents. After taking a ride, head to Gecko Gulch Park, a great place for kids to run around and play and give parents time to catch their breath.
This section represents the most arid deserts on the continent, hosting a variety of species, from cheetahs to the very cute and friendly meerkats, and its open spaces and a hot sun from above certainly emulate being on an African safari. Ostriches and antelope mingle with the giraffes, which are an attraction at their two half-hour feeding times during the day. The Reticulated giraffes, found in eastern Africa, gather around the staff member, pushing each other out of the way in order to get to the feast. For a small fee, visitors may also have a unique experience to feed these graceful creatures.
Other animals to see include the African wild dog, crested porcupine, and Ankole longhorn cattle, whose horns can extend up to eight feet in length. Visitors will also see one male Grevy zebra keeping a watchful eye over his small harem of females.
The WaTuTu village is the oasis of The Living Desert and is an exact replica of a village found in northern Kenya, including authentic huts made of mud with a thatched roof of dried grass. It’s a nice place to sit and relax and have a bite to eat at the Thorne Tree Inn. There’s also a gift shop, and all proceeds from purchases support the zoo’s causes.
For an overnight camping experience in the spring months, the Living Desert offers a unique nighttime adventure, including guided tours with the presentation of nocturnal animals and star gazing. Tell a ghost story or two while making s’mores over a bonfire, then fall into a slumber to the sounds of the desert at night.
Wildlife Hospital and Conservation Center
The Tennity Wildlife Animal Hospital, which opened in 2002, has primary goal of bringing the highest quality of care to the animal collection. Anyone can visit, and it’s also possible to observe surgeries on wounded animals and learn about them from the friendly staff. Visitors may further see birds and other animals rehabilitating in a different section of the hospital. Overall, it’s a wonderful and informative experience.
Bring plenty of water, wear a hat and sun screen.
You can also ride a tram all day for $6 (adult) and $3 for kids.
Private safaris are available, too, along with tours that take visitors behind the scenes.
For more information about The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens, visit the website at: www.livingdesert.org