The Living Desert

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I recently visited one of the best and least known places to enjoy in Southern California. It’s located in Palm Desert, right next to Rancho Mirage. By bus, it takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to get there from Highland.

It opened in 1970, very small, (125 acres) and covers about 1400 acres currently. Shrubbery, trails, animals, picnic areas, a great café. Sound interesting? It’s the “LIVING DESERT.” Known also as the “Palm Springs Zoo and Garden.” By the way, on your way there or on your way back, stop at Hadley’s. The store has been expanded and is well worth shopping for awhile.

Now, the details. “It is the home to more than 130 rare, threatened and endangered plant species from around the world.” These are all interesting to look at and very educational.

While parking is free, they offer four basic types of scenic tours. 1. Senior Riding package: a two-hour narrative tour of the Zoo and Gardens, on a tram, narrated by a knowledgeable Guide. A box lunch is included. 2. Safari Riding Package, the same as above, somewhat more expensive and without the lunch. 3. Walking Guides Tour. A guided tour through the Zoo and Gardens.

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4. Self-guided Tours. There is a discounted rate for groups that want to tour on their own.

By the way, “It is family friendly and perfect for kids of all ages-and adults too.” The tram ride, on which I was on, stops frequently and those that are able can walk a very short distance to get a better view of the animals.

The original impetus and inspiration for the Living Desert stemmed from several trustees of the Palm Springs Desert Museum. They envisioned what such a program would have on the desert ecosystem.

Much credit is due to Phillip L. Boyd, Chairman. His first job was to hire a resident naturalist. Boyd’s qualifications were extensive. He had founded the Riverside campus of the University of California and the Deep Canyon Research Station in Palm Desert.

Karen Sausman was the young woman he hired. Exceptional, to say the least. Energetic and intelligent and ambitious. She was also an experienced zoo keeper and park ranger, plus graduate work in wildlife biology. Ms. Sausman was President and CEO of the Living Desert for forty (40) years, and recently retired.

The current President and CEO is Allen Monroe.

An assessment by those who know is that the vision and love of the desert as molded by Boyd, Sausman, members, volunteers, staff, and friends, will be carried forward by Mr. Monroe.

As a visitor, reporter and constant on-looker, I was impressed with the energy exhibited by employees and volunteers of the Living Desert. There was a constant stream of trams pulling plants to be planted, trimming overgrown ones, watering and fertilizing. I was told the zoo would have lions and elephants next year.

I hesitate to enumerate various kinds of animals for fear of missing some, but here goes: mountain lions, Mexican wolves, javelins’, bobcats, badgers, birds of all kinds, giraffes, zebras, sand cats, foxes, camels, humming birds, butterflies, Arabian Oryx, gazelles, fennel foxes, Arad wolves, dikes, hookbill’s, meerkats, rock hyrax, warthogs, cheetahs, antelopes, African Spurred Tortoise, African Crested Porcupine, African Pigmy Hedgehog, African Wild Dog, Bibron’s Gecko, California King snake, Cape Thick-knee, Ball Pythons, Barbados Blackbelly, Sheep, Black-Eared Fox, Bearded Dragon, Black-footed Cat, Bobcat, Caracal, Waldrapp Ibis, Western Diamond-back Rattlesnake, Hognose Snake, Western Pond Turtle. White headed Buffalo Weaver, Virginia Opossum, Yellow-billed Stork, White-nosed Coati.

Plus, scores of others that our guide shared with us but I’ve forgotten. However, I’m sure the future will bring many more desert friendly animals to the Living Desert.

There are several unique programs that the Living Desert offers to interested or want -to-be patrons. A very attractive one is called, Adopt an Animal. You become a parent of an animal. While a symbolic adoption, it helps support animal care. Donations provide funds for wildlife education, conservation research, animal care and habitat improvements.

I like the ads, “Adoptions make unique gifts for birthdays, holidays, graduation-the perfect gift for the person who has everything. Give a gift that gives back.”

The financial level goes from $1000.00 down to $35.00 and the gift gets a certificate and a photo of the animal of preference.

Another unique program is provided by the Living Desert University. (LDU) The classes bring the worlds of conservation and education together. Students learn “how to preserve and protect the fragile beauty of the desert through a fun and fascinating series of adult classes and programs.”

Their level of class information, taught by qualified professors is impressive. The goal is simple. “To offer a broad range of classes that increase environmental sensitivity and ecological action in everyday life.”

The classes are also offered on line.

One further unique program. VOLUNTEERS. Training is provided for those volunteering. Assisting the staff is the objective. They cover the entire park and include key roles with Guest Service Education, Trams, Garden and Animal Departments.

Volunteers also receive exclusive benefits such as comprehensive orientation, training, special discounts and more.

Wow!! What an opportunity for young and old alike.

Amen. Selah. So be it.

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