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Explore the Wild Side of The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens

Jeana Shandraw

When was the last time you saw baby Jaguar cubs in person? Or peered up at a family of giraffes? How about enjoyed a safari trip in the desert? Not recently? Well, California’s Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert offers up close, guided tours and much more than the everyday zoo experience. This facility offers a particularly special experience because it has spent forty years trying to preserve wildlife while others were cutting it down and building hotels.

Meeting a full size male leopard up-close
Jeana Shandraw

It started in 1970 when some of the trustees of the Palm Springs Desert Museum grew concerned about the local desert environment as more and more resorts began popping up. Fearful that an entire ecosystem would be wiped out as five star hotels and shopping centers took over, the trustees established a interpretive nature trail and preserve in Palm Desert to help save a piece of the precious landscape.

Over the span of four decades, The Living Desert has been working to preserve and conserve the land and all of its inhabitants. It has expanded from 360 acres to 1,200 acres and has become a sanctuary for a variety of animals and plants including such endangered species as the slender-horned gazelles. Today, people flock to the zoo to experience exotic animals, elaborate gardens, and educational information on the preservation and conservation of the environment.

Get Behind the Scenes

Within the Living Desert, visitors can view animals from all over the world including North America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. In addition to the exhibits, animal chats, and wildlife trails, guests can now go on a variety of Behind the Scenes Tours which includes a guided Safari exploration and animal encounter. By booking a tour, you will purchase admission to the park and a personal guide as well as a tram with shaded, cushioned streets. The tour is a three hour discovery of The Living Desert with up close and personal interactions with some of the most incredible wild animals. Select tours even offer feedings and trainings.

The Camel Painting Tour may be one of the most unique of the Behind the Scenes tour experiences. After meeting and learning a bit about Clyde, a dromedary camel, guests have the unique experience of being able to create a piece of art with the help of their new friend.

Unlike the infamous elephant paintings, the task for Clyde is simply a feeding in disguise. Choose your favorite shade of non-toxic paint, add a generous helping of camel feed and after a few brilliant strokes, you have your work of art alongside a camel with green lips.

Did you know... there are no more camels left in the wild? All camels left in the world, both dromedary and bactrian, are now domesticated.

If you're going to be in the area soon, a very special addition to the zoo has many visitors very excited. A four year old Jaguar has given birth to two adorable jaguar cubs, and only recently have these precious little guys been able to view. These cuddly little cubs could be one of the stops on your own safari!

The Discovery Center

The Miriam U. Hoover Discovery Center is a haven for interactive education about the Coachella Valley desert and its inhabitants. Children will delight in a multitude of hands-on activities including:

  • Posing with an 8-foot-tall giant ground sloth skeleton
  • Exploring a fossil wall featuring replica bones and skulls of Pleistocene animals
  • Finding and naming each animal that lives in the Coachella Valley desert via a full wall mural

Local residents get the opportunity for a really special experience because the Living Desert also offers Wildlife on Wheels. Professional zookeepers will pack up some of the animals and bring them to special events providing an amazing hands-on and educational experience, perfect for a truly memorable birthday party or an extra special day for your child's school.

It's not all about the animals

The Living Desert has worked tirelessly to protect the plant life as well as the animals, and the zoo has over 50 gardens to view. Each one has been classified into one of four categories. The beautiful gardens are just as captivating and informative as the animal exhibits.

  • Geographic Gardens - Represent gardens from a specific region.
  • Taxonomic Gardens - Display plants with familial traits.
  • Educational Gardens – Offer a unifying message and information
  • Landscape Display – Natural ambiance to view while walking from one exhibit to the next.
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