Living Desert Zoo & Botanical Garden – Palm Desert, CA

Jocelyn Murray July 6, 2011 No Comments

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Entrance to The Living Desert

Entrance to The Living Desert

A mountain lion sleeps in the shade of a rock under a juniper. Lizards bask in the early morning sun, still as statues. Meerkats stand tall, surveying the rugged landscape before them. In this land of subtropical, arid climate, life flourishes among the variety of cactus, sagebrush, palms and tumbleweed. This is The Living Desert: a 1,200-acre zoo and botanical garden in Palm Desert, California that is home to over 500 animals, and a great place for families to visit.

I came with my family in 2011 and spent three lovely hours exploring this oasis. Plants and animals from the deserts around the world are featured in the numerous exhibits.

North American Eagle Owl

North American Eagle Owl

The North American area showcases many creatures such as owls, bats, scorpions, mice and lizards. Majestic birds of prey including hawks, falcons and eagles offer a close encounter with visitors. Mammals such as coyote, badgers, wolves, mountain lions, bobcats and bighorn sheep graze, sleep or go about life in the safety of their protected surroundings.

Many of the animals seek refuge in sleep from the day’s heat, so it is best to come early before it gets too hot.

We really enjoyed the African exhibits with their animal habitats and gardens native to Africa. There, gazelle, addax, meerkats, warthogs, tortoises, giraffes, ostriches, camels, zebras and more captivated us. Some of the world’s most endangered animals are bred here, and reintroduced to their natural habitats.

Jaguar Sleeping - The Living Desert

Jaguar Sleeping – The Living Desert

The Living Desert’s Village WaTuTu is an authentic replica of a village found in northeast Africa, with its mud-walled huts and grass-thatched roofs. This was fun to explore, along with the Kumbu Kumbu Marketplace that tempts goers with their exotic wares including clothes, beads, jewelry, artifacts, books, toys and more. We stopped to refuel for lunch at the Thorn Tree Grill which provides a delicious assortment of food and beverages for hungry visitors.

Petting Kraal

Petting Kraal Entrance

Next we headed to the Petting Kraal which was fun for the children who got to roam among the sheep and goats and pet them. Later they took a camel ride which was a big hit, even getting a few pictures taken while perched high on the camel’s back.

Goats and sheep in the Petting Kraal

Goats and sheep in the Petting Kraal

The Discovery Center is a welcome break from the outdoor heat. Here visitors can engage in interactive exhibits and learn about the Coachella Valley region. This is especially popular with children, and includes a craft counter, an old seismograph with computer display, touchable replica bones and skulls of Pleistocene animals, a reproduction of the desert night sky complete with constellations and night calls of the animals, a carpeted “dune” for children to crawl about and play, and more.

Merry Go Round - The Living Desert

Merry Go Round – The Living Desert

Just past the Discovery Center is a wonderful merry-go-round with a desert twist: an endangered species carousel featuring 30 animals represented at The Living Desert and two chariots. Some of the animals include a warthog, lion, jaguar, giraffe, zebra, gazelle, hummingbird, and golden eagle.

Camel Ride - The Living Desert

Camel Ride – The Living Desert

Our day ended with a stop at the gift shop by the exit where we purchased a couple of plush jaguar cubs for the children before leaving the grounds. This combination of zoo and botanical gardens was a memorable encounter with creatures that are not often seen in city zoos, making it extra special.

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Jocelyn Murray is a travel writer and historical fiction novelist. She holds two university master's degrees in both English and Education, along with a bachelor's degree in Economics and European Studies. She also has a teaching credential and taught at the elementary school level.

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