FoxPaws | Spring 2023

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Wonderfully W ild


board of trustees


Bill Appel*


Craig McCollam*


Sandra Cooper Woodson*

President/CEO & Assistant Secretary

Allen Monroe*

Jon-Marc Blalock*

Deborah Chapman*

Marylynn Gladstein

Jim Gould

Candace Holzgrafe*

H. Earl Hoover II

Suz Hunt

Michael Kiner

Jaishri Mehta

Jneil Nelson

Peter Scheer

Michael Schreter

Dick Shalhoub

Sally Simonds

Bill Simpkins

BJ Skilling

Phillip K. Smith, Jr.*

Roger Snoble

Mary Lou Solomon

Larry Spicer

Sam Spinello

Nancy L. Stegehuis*

Van Tanner

*Board of Directors


Karen Sausman


Curt Ealy


Brian S. Harnik

Roemer & Harnik, LLP



City of Indian Wells Mayor Donna Griffith

City of Palm Desert

Mayor Kathleen Kelly and Council Member Gina Nestande

City of Rancho Mirage Council Member Ted Weill

Coachella Valley Water District

Jim Barrett and Anthony Bianco

Greater Palm Springs CVB

Scott White and Davis Meyer

Judy Vossler

Carol Wright

3 From the President’s Desk

4 Giving Desert Tortoises a Head Start

8 Saving Wild Cheetahs

13 Donor Spotlight

14 Why Should You Plant Native? Let's Dig In!


16 Zoobilee Gala 2023 Success

18 WildFile

21 Events Calendar

23 Wonderfully Wild Kids



Glow in the Park

Photo: Tara Howard


Project Manager

Erin Scott


Jim Augusto


RoxAnna Breitigan

Cynthia Buckner

Dr. James Danoff-Burg

Heather Down

Jan Hawkins

Lindsay Jarvis

Allen Monroe

Jenny Lynn Robinson

Erin Scott

Emily Lou Thomas

Lexi Ward

Angela Woods

contents FEATURES


THE LIVING DESERT is a pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of an organization. When we see something that needs to be done to improve the Park and give our guests the best day ever experience, we roll up our sleeves, develop a plan, and then make it happen. But we are not afraid to reach out a hand and ask for help. And thankfully, you, our community and donors have stepped up when asked.

Over the last five years, we have raised more than $50 million to invest back into the Park and strengthen our foundation for the next 50 years. Starting in 2018 with the Grundhofer Entry Plaza and the Bill and Suzan Appel Gift Shop, we have been refreshing, restoring, and rebuilding our Zoo into something the entire Coachella Valley can be proud of. Australian Adventures opened in 2020 and brought us desert species from the land down under and their conservation stories. And just over a year ago, we opened Rhino Savanna to help support black rhino conservation. This fall, we will open a new 10,000 sq. ft. staff office complex and expand our parking capacity by 35%.

All of this happened because of you. Our members and donors who asked, "What can I do to help? What

is needed most? What are the plans for the future of The Living Desert?" Our success over the last 53 years is directly due to the people along the way who helped make a difference, who believed in our mission of desert conservation, and who committed their time, talent, and passion.

That is why we are Wild About You, our supporters who have an enthusiasm for education and conservation, for leaving the planet better than we found it, for ensuring that our grandkids will still have a place to enjoy the natural world. And your support not only rebuilds and modernizes The Living Desert, but it also helps us accomplish our mission of education and conservation.

It took some wise people early on to start The Living Desert on this path, but it has taken a community of supporters to be the wind in our sails. I thank all of you for being Wonderfully Wild, believing in our mission, and supporting our future.

Allen Monroe,
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Allen Monroe, President/CEO, at the 30th Annual Zoobilee Gala, holding Brucie the burrowing owl.

Desert Tortoises Giving a Head Start

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Photo courtesy San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

During one of Southern California's heatwaves last September, The Living Desert and the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (SDZWA) were working hard to transport and secure nearly 70 wild desert tortoise hatchlings and eggs. Although The Living Desert’s conservation team was expecting the arrival of the desert tortoise hatchlings, the animals weren’t meant to arrive for a few more weeks. However, the extreme heat necessitated an emergency evacuation and transport of desert tortoise eggs and hatchlings so they could be housed in an indoor, temperaturestable environment here at The Living Desert’s Tennity Wildlife Hospital.

For months prior, The Living Desert had been collaborating with the team at the SDZWA on a project in which desert tortoise hatchlings would hatch on their own in a secure, outdoor holding facility at Edwards Air Force Base and then be brought to The Living Desert for their first six months of life.

For desert tortoises, their first few years are critical to survival. As eggs and hatchlings, tortoises are about the size of a golf ball and have a soft shell, making them the perfect target for a variety of predators. To help them survive their most vulnerable life stage, scientists use a technique called headstarting. Headstart projects are used for species where surviving through their youngest life stages dramatically increases their chances of reaching adulthood. Until they are about five years old, desert tortoise hatchlings have soft shells, meaning they are at their most vulnerable to potential predators such as ravens and coyotes for quite some time. As their shells thicken and harden with age, they are better able to fend off predators.

Through this desert tortoise headstart program — a collaboration with SDZWA, Edwards Air Force Base, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Geological Survey — the hatchlings will spend their first six months growing substantially larger than they would in the

Clockwise from top left: Incubators allowed the tortoise eggs to hatch safely. In partnership with the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and Edwards Air Force Base, the headstart program gives these tiny tortoises a better chance for survival in the wild. When a desert tortoise hatches, their shell is soft and wrinkled from the time they spent folded inside their egg.
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Upon hatching, the average weight of the tortoises was 22 grams, the equivalent of almost four quarters. A special regimen of nutrition and a warm habitat encourages accelerated growth in the tortoises, which helps in hardening their protective shells.

wild. Thanks to a large, nutrient-rich diet and warm, climate-controlled habitat, they can grow to the size of a three-year-old tortoise within the first six months of their lives. This significant growth in size will make them less vulnerable to predation and increase their chance of survival when they are reintroduced into their native habitat.

The early stages of this project began on Edwards Air Force Base, where SDZWA ecologists located and monitored adult tortoises via trackers. Mobile X-ray machines allowed the ecologists to go into the desert and determine which adult females had eggs. Those females were transported to a safe, outdoor rearing facility to lay their eggs in provided burrows. Once the females laid their eggs, they were returned back to the location where they were collected. The original plan was to allow the hatchlings to emerge naturally from their eggs and burrows in the rearing facility and then be transported

to The Living Desert for headstarting. However, due to the heat wave, the burrows were getting too hot to safely contain the eggs and the ecologists had to move quickly to Plan B: evacuating the eggs prematurely and immediately transporting them to The Living Desert to hatch in incubators. The hatchlings who emerged early at the outdoor facility followed soon thereafter.

Desert tortoises are ectotherms, meaning their body temperatures are determined by their environment. They must move around their habitats to keep their bodies in a safe temperature range. Therefore, climate-change induced heat waves and other extreme weather events are a major concern for the conservation of the species. Hatchlings and juveniles are especially susceptible to illness and mortality due to the temperature extremes. One way tortoises keep themselves safe in the cold winter months is by staying deep in their dens and entering brumation, a reptile state of hibernation. To

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encourage rapid growth, The Living Desert has kept the hatchlings awake for their first winter in an indoor, temperature-controlled environment. They have heat lamps and UV lights to mimic outdoor conditions, ensure proper bone growth, and aid in nutrient absorption. Here, scientists can ensure the hatchlings are kept warm enough to mature quickly and safely but are not in danger of overheating.

These hatchlings are also helping scientists better understand the species. While the hatchlings are at The Living Desert, they are going through a series of thermography and behavioral trials. Tortoises’ dependency on temperature means that increasing our understanding of how climate change affects tortoises is critical to their conservation. The headstart program presents scientists with a unique opportunity to learn more about thermal ecology and hone mitigation techniques for the youngest age classes of desert

tortoises. Similarly, scientists can evaluate behavioral traits amongst the tortoises to discover what role those traits may play in predicting habitat use, movement, and survival of the animals once they are back in the wild. In this way, behavior can inform or shape conservation practices to be more effective. These trials are still underway, and the teams are continuing to collect more data. Stay on the lookout for updates and key findings!

After trials are complete and the hatchlings are large enough, they will return to the designated outdoor rearing facility for another six months to re-acclimatize to the desert and learn important predator avoidance behaviors. The SDZWA staff will complete training with the hatchlings to teach them to be wary of some of their top predators, ravens and coyotes. While ravens are a native and natural predator of desert tortoises, their population is 17 times as large as it was just 40 years ago, and they now account for the majority of annual tortoise mortalities. By pairing the smell of coyote urine or the sight and smell of a raven with something unpleasant, the hatchlings will learn to steer clear of these top predators. Once the training is complete, scientists will attach radio trackers to the hatchlings' shells and release them back into the desert on Edwards Air Force Base. These radio trackers will allow scientists to monitor the dispersal, survivability, and habitat use of the hatchlings.

As The Living Desert wraps up this phase of the project, we are proud that so many guests have had the chance to see the hatchlings at the Tennity Wildlife Hospital. Similarly, we are proud of The Living Desert’s team of conservation scientists and volunteers who provided daily care like feeding and cleaning, taking growth measurements, completing thermography or behavioral trials, or soaking the tortoises in their weekly bath. The Living Desert has been a longtime supporter of desert tortoise conservation and is proud to continue this critical effort. Despite being the California state reptile, desert tortoises are critically endangered. By giving desert tortoises a head start, we hope to bolster the wild population and give the species a fighting chance of survival.

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Top: At The Living Desert's Tennity Wildlife Hospital, UV lights and heat lamps allow caretakers to control the temperature of the tortoises' environment. Bottom: Each tortoise is measured weekly to track growth rate. A larger size means they will be less vulnerable when released back into the wild.

Saving Wild Cheetahs

Africa’s fastest cat is in a race against extinction. Cheetahs have vanished from over 90% of their historic natural range in Africa with the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species estimating only 7,100 remaining in the wild today. Currently, cheetah populations are facing a multifaceted and complex fight for survival from three main threats: human-wildlife conflict, loss of habitat and loss of prey, and the illegal wildlife trade.


In late Spring 2022, The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens responded to one of our long-term conservation partners, Cheetah Conservation Fund’s (CCF), desperate call for help after receiving a surge of very young cheetah cubs confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade that joined their existing 90 nonreleasable cheetahs and one African leopard who had survived trafficking attempts. After a few short weeks of logistics and travel planning, passport checks, and supplies procurement, The Living Desert’s all-female team consisting of two animal care keepers, a veterinary technician, and an animal care curator were ready to depart for Hargeisa, Somaliland, Africa from our California desert.

With suitcases and crates filled with supplies like vital medications and neonatal formula, along with some familiar snacks and goodies for the CCF veterinary and animal care staff, The Living Desert team arrived in Somaliland ready to go to work. With a familiar standard of care, the team seamlessly assumed a wide variety of animal care tasks including feeding and preparing meals, administering medication, monitoring the overall

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The Living Desert team in Hargeisa, Somaliland. From left to right: Morgan Dustin, Veterinary Technician; Victoria Fosdick, Animal Care Keeper; Elizabeth Hiner, Animal Care Keeper; Heather Down, Animal Care Curator

health, behavior and wellbeing, record-keeping, as well as offering enriching experiences and socialization of the animals. Incredibly, many of these young, confiscated cheetahs had already been trained to participate in their own health care, including receiving injections, crating, and accepting touch for body condition assessment, all of which was imperative to their recovery.

The team embraced the opportunity from the beginning. Working with limited resources including water, construction materials, and essential supplies brought the group together to work collaboratively and creatively. Meal preparation included full day butchering of a half dozen whole camels and many goat carcasses to prepare weekly diets, a marked shift from the convenience of meal preparation at home. The Living Desert’s team made the most of the experience working day shifts that rolled into night shifts for round the clock cub feedings, care, and monitoring. In the off-time, there was the incredible opportunity to share stories and experiences with new teammates from around the world. And, most impactful were the conversations with the Hargesian locals and learning about their perspectives about wildlife in this community.

Where is Somaliland?

Located in the Horn of Africa, Somaliland is located on the east coast of Africa and is a self-declared sovereign state that is recognized as an autonomous region of Somalia by the international community. Its proximity to the Middle East, however, makes it a key area of wildlife trafficking fueled by the illegal pet trade.

After two weeks of tireless work and dedication, it was time to return home. Not only did the team return home full of knowledge and new experiences, but with a renewed passion to share the urgent crisis that is facing a multitude of species. Globally, illegal wildlife trafficking is estimated to be a $10 billion business annually — and all of it stems from taking animals and plants from nature and selling them to meet consumer demand. Cheetahs, rhinos, pangolins, sharks, ivory, succulents, and countless other plants and animals are facing this very real threat. Help us stop this nefarious trade.

SAUDI ARABIA Veterinary technician, Morgan Dustin, feeds a six-week-old cheetah cub. The young, malnourished cubs require around the clock critical care.
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Roughly 90% of cheetahs in Africa live outside of protected wildlife reserves on private farmlands because they are excluded by the other larger predators inside protected areas. Perceived as a threat to a farmer’s livestock and livelihood, farmers cope with this predation by protecting their resources — that most often means killing the cheetah or making a quick profit by stealing cubs to be smuggled into the exotic pet trade fueled by demand in the Middle East.

Human-wildlife conflict and the role it plays as a driver and root cause of illegal trade is an international crisis that has devastating impacts to both animals and humans. For cheetahs, the poaching of cheetah cubs to meet the crushing demand for the illegal pet trade poses a serious threat to the future of the species. CCF estimates that 300 cheetah cubs a year are taken from the wild, primarily from the Horn of Africa, to be sold as pets in the Arabian Peninsula.

Most threats to wildlife are humaninduced, and as such, conser-

vationists most often focus their efforts on people — creating positive human behavior change, promoting human-wildlife coexistence, and minimizing conflict. The best way to protect wildlife is to protect local communities and their livestock from predators. As communitybased conservation work continues to stop the trade, we must also care for the animals that are directly affected by the illegal wildlife trade. Trafficked cheetah cubs are often only weeks old when stolen from their mothers. They usually suffer from improper care by their captors and often become severely

Veterinary technician, Morgan Dustin, treats a malnourished and emaciated 4-month-old cheetah cub.
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Animal Care Curator, Heather Down, works on socializing a 4-year-old cheetah via grooming.

medically compromised requiring extensive, and often lifelong treatment for diseases, injury, and malnutrition resulting in them not being releasable.

Currently there are over 100 animals at CCF Somaliland being provided a second chance at life, but there are another 300 known animals that haven’t been so fortunate. Wildlife trafficking is fueled by the demand for wildlife and wildlife products and is driving many species to the brink of extinction. It is critical work to help stop the wildlife trade — and it is up to all of us.

What is Cheetah Conservation Fund?

Led by renowned cheetah conservationist, Dr. Laurie Marker, CCF is a mutli-faceted organization that works to benefit the entire ecosystem in which cheetahs live and develop programs that support wild cheetah populations and the human communities that share the landscape. The Living Desert has partnered with CCF for over 20 years.

Your generosity to The Living Desert helps make fieldconservation projects like this one possible. Thank you for your continued support.

Be a smart shopper when you travel internationally — know where your souvenirs are coming from. Avoid sharing or engaging with images or videos that promote the illegal pet trade — including photos and videos of people interacting with baby wildlife. Report illegal activities — with all of us working together, we can make a difference for the future of these animals.


The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens brought to CCF Somaliland hard working hands conditioned to work in arid desert temperatures,

along with fresh perspectives and authentic enthusiasm. The team served as ambassadors to the local community and learned so much about cheetahs and the care of cheetahs in a short time frame. Working in Somaliland offered real world international field experience including knowledge exchange with staff and locals while providing professional support. The most uniquely impactful experience was the inside perspective of one of the biggest challenges we face as conservationists — the illegal wildlife trade.

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A CCF veterinarian palpating a cub to assess body condition upon intake.

A Spring Lantern Festival


Now – April 30 6:30–10:00pm Buy your tickets now!

Advance reservations required.


Donor Spotlight

What do you give the person who has everything they need? What about a gift, in their honor, to their favorite non-profit organization?

Norma Jones’ family had been giving her treasures for many years until her home was full and she said no more. She asked that her family start giving to The Living Desert instead — a place they shared as her children grew and now her grandchildren and greatgrandchildren enjoy.

Norma contacted The Living Desert to let us know that some gifts might be coming in. And come in they did! What the family normally would have spent in one full year on Christmas and Norma’s birthday, the family instead contributed $12,750 to the Norma Jones Tribute Fund at The Living Desert.

With the money raised, the family was able to create a design of 21 tiles on a bench next to the Endangered Species Carousel. In December 2022, 23 family members gathered to see the results and celebrate Norma.

The Living Desert also celebrates the philanthropist that Norma is. Norma gives in so many ways:

She has been a member of The Living Desert since February of 1989! She is currently at the Curator’s Circle level of our Guardian Society.

She is a member of our Champions of Conservation monthly giving program. This constant support helps us budget for the resources needed to feed our animals, provide educational opportunities, and support worldwide conservation efforts.

Norma gives to our Adoption program. The younger great-grandchildren love the plush animals. The older ones get joy from seeing their names posted on billboards at our Bighorn Railway.

Maybe you now have an idea for that next gift for that special someone who doesn’t need a thing! Our website,, directs you to all these ways to give and more.

Donations to The Living Desert enable us to continue providing the highest level of care to our animals, educating the next generation about the world’s deserts, and inspiring our guests to care for the world’s wildlife and wild places.

Visit our website or call for more information: | 760-346-5694. Tributes and Memorials: Cynthia Buckner, ext 2166 | Animal and Train Adoptions: Lin Conrad, ext 2164 Guardian Society membership and Champions of Conservation: Lexi Ward, ext 2169
Jones Family Norma Jones and Wallace Family Norma Jones and Honer Family
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Why Should You Plant Native? Let’s Dig In!

The Colorado Desert spans nearly seven million acres, and in addition to being the home of The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, is filled with a wide variety of unique species of plants and animals. Unfortunately, our desert’s native plants, animals, and the entire ecosystem, are being increasingly threatened by the negative impacts of invasive plants.

When left unchecked, non-native plants can become invasive by out-competing native ones for important resources like moisture, sunlight, nutrients, and space. This suppresses native species growth and harms the biodiversity and balance of that ecosystem.

Here in the Coachella Valley, non-native weeds like Sahara mustard and fountain grass, as well as trees like tamarisk, are outcompeting native plants. This can alter water flows, dry up streams and ponds, displace native plants, homogenize the landscape, and increase the risk of wildfires. In addition, the animals who depend on these native plants can find themselves without adequate food, shelter, and hydration.

To protect these delicate ecosystems and the desert species that live within them, The Living Desert has been at the forefront of protecting native plants here at the Zoo and across the Coachella Valley.

Monarch Butterfly Costa's Hummingbird
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Over the past several years, our conservation team has led several local projects to restore native plant diversity in various threatened habitats, including projects to control water-hungry tamarisk trees in Salt Creek and spearheading native plant propagation for the Coachella Valley Preserve and Orocopia Mountains. The work of rebuilding threatened habitats is essential, but to support sustainable ecosystems long-term, we can’t do it alone.

And the good news is that you can also help protect native plants! If you have a yard or even a flowerpot, you can plant native species and provide additional habitats and food for native pollinators. By planting only native species, you also prevent the spread of nonnative plant seeds.

Remember that even small changes add up to make a big difference. Together, we can restore the desert, one plant at a time.

The Living Desert is continuing and expanding upon our community conservation with an exciting new event, 10,000 Seeds: A Pollinator Plant Party, from April 10th – 23rd. During this event, members and guests of all ages are invited to help us plant 10,000 seeds and establish native pollinator gardens throughout the Coachella Valley!

These pollinator gardens will help restore fragmented urban ecosystems, provide critical habitat and food for threatened pollinators, and are drought resistant! Guests will have the opportunity to start their own pollinator garden by planting a local species to take home. (Not a green thumb? Don’t worry, you’ll get instructions on how to care for your new plant!)

Additional seeds potted during the Pollinator Plant Party will be propagated here at the Zoo and at various local community partners, such as community centers and libraries, where The Living Desert will steward each location to help them meet the requirements to become a certified wildlife habitat.

Then, on Saturday, April 22, the party will spring into action for Earth Day! Throughout the park, guests can join us to learn how to help promote a healthier planet through the choices we make. Fun for all ages, guests can participate in hands-on activities, meet with many of our local conservation partners, learn about sustainable options, attend themed keeper connections, and more.

This program is free for members or with paid park admission. Learn more and make your plans to join us at

Join Us for a Pollinator Plant Party! April 10–23
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Salt Creek restoration Kevin and Wendy Cox, Dean and Sharon Baltzell, Stacy Schlinger, Ted Peterson, Dori and Andy Moshier JoAnn McGrath, Allen and Deirdre Monroe Rita Stec and Lance Eldred Chuck Hilliar, Suz Hunt, and Bob Archer Wayne and Rachelle Prim Ellen Way, Connie and Bob Lurie, Jan Hawkins Johnny Krupa and Steve Tobin Mary Lou Graziadio Kathy and Bob Jaunich, Stephanie and Michael Landes Dick Shalhoub and Tracy Smith, Jaishri and Raju Mehta, Jan Harnik, and Allen Monroe Dallas Erwood and Marcy Tonkin Suzan and Bill Appel, Marcia and Max Messmer, Patty and Larry Spicer Mary Jo and Al Means Pat and David Lamb

Wild Fun at The Living Desert’s 30th Annual Zoobilee Gala

On Saturday, March 4, 2023, a picture-perfect evening set the stage for a wildly good time at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens’ 30th annual Zoobilee Gala. With a sold-out crowd of nearly 400 guests, the evening raised close to $1.4 million to benefit The Living Desert’s exceptional animal care, unwavering commitment to local and global conservation programs, and dedication to providing engaging and impactful education programs for school children.

The Wild About You themed evening began with a cocktail reception in Living Legacy Garden complete with animal connections, performance artists, festive cocktails and delectable hors d’oeuvres. From there, guests moved into the beautifully decorated event pavilion designed by Momentous Productions to dine on a scrumptious three-course dinner by Carousel Catering. The evening concluded with a lively tribute performance from Supreme Reflections, where guests flocked to the dance floor.

Brooke Beare served as the event’s mistress of ceremonies, with auction host Brian Harnik and benefit auctioneer Dale Johannes.

As Allen Monroe, President/CEO of The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, welcomed the crowd, he expressed his gratitude for the support from those in the room: “Over the last five years, you’ve given over $50 million to The Living Desert, allowing us to invest back into The Living Desert and strengthen our foundation for the next fifty years. And that is why we are Wild About You, our supporters who have an enthusiasm for education and conservation and for leaving the planet better than we found it.”

Among the exclusive live auction items were one of three stunning diamond jewelry creations by El Paseo

Jewelers, wine cellar dinners for 20 at Toscana Country Club, and tickets to Reba McEntire at Acrisure Arena. The “Raise the Paw” fundraising appeal was led by a $100,000 pledge from long-time supporter Harold Matzner, followed by $100,000 gifts from Sharon and Dean Baltzell and Stacy Schlinger, along with $50,000 “Raise the Paw” gifts from Pat and Dave Lamb, and JoAnn McGrath and the Highland Street Foundation.

“We are truly wild about our donors and their continued support,” noted Jan Hawkins, Leadership Gifts and Legacy Giving at The Living Desert. “Our annual Zoobilee Gala is a special event to recognize and celebrate the incredible dedication and commitment of our community.”

Seen in the crowd were Board members of The Living Desert including Chairman of the Board Bill Appel and wife Suzan, Deborah Chapman, Marylynn Gladstein and husband Andy, Candace Holzgrafe and husband Jon, Suz Hunt, Craig McCollam, Jaishri Mehta and husband Raju, Peter Scheer, Michael Schreter and wife Sally, Dick Shalhoub, Sally Simonds, Phil Smith and wife Becky, and Mary Lou Solomon and husband Dick, and Larry Spicer and wife Patty.

Zoobilee guests also included Karen Alton, Bob Archer and Chuck Hilliar, Chris and John Blair, Mary Lou Graziadio, Kathy and Bob Jaunich, Terri and Bart Ketover, Brooke Koehler, JoAnn McGrath, David McGrath, Leslie and Sean McGrath, Trudy and Pat Ritz, Jan Salta, Lori and Aubrey Serfling, Susan Stein, and Marcy Tonkin. Elected officials included 47th District Assembly member Greg Wallis, Palm Desert council member Jan Harnik, Indian Wells Mayor Donna Griffith, and Rancho Mirage Mayor Richard Kite.

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RoxAnna Breitigan and Anna Young, PhD Embark on Zoo Professional Development Program

Me and You at the Zoo Returns to The Living Desert

The Living Desert’s RoxAnna Breitigan, Director of Animal Care, and Dr. Anna Young, Director of Education Engagement, have deepened their engagement with AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) through the prestigious Executive Leadership Development Program (ELDP). Now in its ninth year, the highly respected and rigorous ELDP program fosters executive leadership development in the zoo and aquarium profession through custom-designed programming, workshops, one-onone mentorship and more. Nationally, just ten candidates are selected from AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to participate in this esteemed development program each year.

Congratulations to RoxAnna Breitigan who graduated from the ELDP program in January 2023 and Dr. Anna Young who recently began her participation in the program.

Back by popular request, The Living Desert’s littlest adventurers have a programming designed just for them! Offered weekly, Me and You at the Zoo offers an hour of guided exploration and fun experiential activities designed for toddlers and their accompanying adult(s).

Families will enjoy nature-inspired programming that encourages movement, curiosity, and collaboration. Each week offers an opportunity for your little explorers to learn and play alongside their peers, as well as develop their creativity and critical thinking skills.

Offered Tuesdays from 9:00-10:00am at the Discovery Center Pavilion through April 25. Please note: programming will resume in the fall. This program is free for members or with paid park admission. No advanced registration is required — drop in anytime!

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RoxAnna Breitigan and Dr. Anna Young

Travel with The Living Desert India: Tigers and Beyond

Join The Living Desert’s Travel Club October 22 – November 4, 2023, for an incredible journey to India, a country full of cultural treasures and resplendent natural heritage. Travel into the heart of wild India through the stories of its conservationists and its most beloved resident: the Bengal tiger. This trip offers an opportunity to witness firsthand the conservation legacy of Kailash Sankhala, who founded Project Tiger in 1973, while we stay in his ecolodge, Kanha. Along with game drives to see wildlife like barasingha deer, Indian bison, langur monkeys, and sloth bear, we will be on the lookout for the elusive Bengal tiger!

For full itinerary, more information, and booking details, visit Travel or call Lexi Ward at (760) 340-2157.

Celebrating Our Volunteers

On a beautiful February evening, The Living Desert celebrated our beloved volunteers at the annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinner. In 2022, volunteers gave 45,000 hours to The Living Desert across 16 different areas.

Congratulations to 2022’s volunteer honorees:

Volunteer of the Year: S.P. Andrade

Rookies of the Year: Mary Leidel; Richard Talmy

20-year Milestone

Award: Dot Spear

15-year Milestone

Award: Bill Blue; Nancy Gilmore; Paul Kodet; Rena Towne

Are you looking for a way to give back?

Consider volunteering at The Living Desert! There are a variety of opportunities available. Volunteers share information and stories of the zoo’s plants and animals to educate and inspire our guests to take conservation action. Active volunteers receive a number of benefits including exclusive educational opportunities, discounts, and more.

Visit for more information and note our upcoming Volunteer Orientation on April 22.

Bengal Tiger
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Volunteer of the Year: S.P. Andrade

Discover these Favorite Zoo Experiences and Tours

Rhino Encounter

Meet your new one-ton bestie through our new Rhino Encounter experience. This semi-private encounter will take you to an exclusive animal care area to meet one of our black rhinos — Nia or Jaali — up close.

The Rhino Care Team will introduce you to The Living Desert's critically endangered black rhino, while offering fascinating insights into the species’ natural biology, what it takes to care for these massive mammals, and an insider’s perspective about their individual personalities. You’ll walk away with life-long memories and insights into how we can collectively work to protect rhinos from extinction.

Every encounter will vary, but participants may have the opportunity to feed a rhino, watch a rhino training session, or brush a rhino. Each session accommodates up to 10 guests.

Rhino Encounters are offered:

April 1-30: 8:30 am and 2:30 pm

May 1-31: 8:30 am

June 1-Sept 30: 8:00 am

Advance reservations are recommended, as these experiences sell out. Book your spot today and learn more at This experience is reserved for guests over 5 years of age.

Members: $45 per person | Non-members: $50 per person

This is How We Zoo It

Join us for an inside look into how we zoo things here at The Living Desert! On this new 30-minute shuttle tour, you'll get a behind-the-scenes look at several animal care service areas while your guide gives you the scoop on what it takes to care for the 600+ animals at the Zoo. You'll also hear how The Living Desert is working to preserve, protect, and restore natural desert environments here and around the world and how you can help!

Tours are offered throughout the day. Visit Guest Services on your next visit to book this totally zoo-nique experience!

Members: $13 | Non-members: $15 Children 3-12 years old: $10 Children under 3 are free

Private Safari Tours

Jump on board a private safari tour and see The Living Desert in an entirely new way. Your knowledgeable guide will escort your group around the Zoo while sharing more about animals and gardens you’ll see along the way. Visit or call 760-346-5694 to book.

Giraffe Feeding

Don’t miss your chance to get nose to nose with the world’s tallest animal. Offered daily from 9:00am-3:00pm through May 31.

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Glow in the Park

Spring ZooCamp

Nightly, Now–April 30 6:30-10:00pm; last admission at 9:00pm

Glow in the Park returns with an entirely new illuminating adventure. Presented by Acrisure Arena, Home of the Coachella Valley Firebirds, Glow in the Park will feature over a hundred new lanterns adorning new pathways, this larger-than–life event will delight guests of all ages. Watch the desert come alive with animal, plant, and nature scape lanterns, immersive and engaging displays, and memorable photo opportunities.

Tickets must be purchased in advance.

April 11 - 13 Ticket

Spring ZooCamp returns with STEM-based learning camps designed for adventurers grades K-5.

K-1ST GRADE: Birds of a Feather — Discover the many ways that birds use their feathers during this hands-on, three-day camp.

2ND-3RD GRADE: Come Fly with Me — Explore the phenomenon of migration in this three-day camp. We'll investigate why some bird species migrate and how others can survive year-round in their environments.

4TH-5TH GRADE: Let’s Get Egg-cited — The eggs of Steller's jays and robins are both a beautiful blue... or are they? In this threeday camp, we'll discover how light and color play an important part in the lives of birds.

Child 3-12 $17.95 $19.95

Child under 3 FREE FREE

Advance reservations are required, and tickets can be purchased at

The Spring ZooCamp sessions are three days, Tuesday – Thursday, 8:30am–12:30pm. Registration now open; advance reservation is required at

Members: $225 | Non-members: $250

Mon–Thu Fri–Sun Adult (General Admission) $27.95 $29.95
Member Adult $25.95 $27.95
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Earth Day

April 22

Join The Living Desert for a day of celebration on Saturday, April 22, from 9:00am-12:00pm.

Earth Day at The Living Desert will feature ways for all of us to help promote a healthier planet through the choices we make. Fun for all ages, guests can help the Zoo fulfill our 10,000 seed challenge by stopping by the Discovery Center to propagate a native plant that supports local pollinators. Meet with many of our local conservation partners, learn about sustainable options, attend themed keeper connections, and more.

This event is free for members or with paid park admission. Learn more at


Summer ZooCamp

Select Weeks, June 7 – July 27, 2023

Summer ZooCamp returns with new programming and themes. Campers in grades K-5, will have the opportunity to explore our desert environment through various experiences, activities, encounters and more.

ZooCamp will run from 8:00am-12:00pm for 3-day sessions, Tuesday through Thursday, except the week of June 7-9, when camp is Wednesday through Friday.

Week 1: June 7-9

Week 2: June 13-15

Week 3: June 20-22

Week 4: July 11-13

Week 5: July 18-20

Week 6: July 25-27

Registration opens April 1; advance registration is required at

Members: $225 | Non-members: $250

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Kids Wonderfully Wild


Flowering plants depend on pollination to reproduce. When they search for food on flowers, these critters help the process happen as they carry pollen within a flower or between flowers of the same species. Can you match the pollinators with their fun facts?

1 While migrating across the North American continent, this fluttering insect pollinates as it travels. Milkweed is an essential food and habitat for this pollinator.

2 With the ability to flap their small wings very quickly, this pollinator appears to hover in the air.

3 Certain types of this species communicate with something called a ‘waggle dance.’ This busy pollinator also produces sweet honey.


There’s a true mutual benefit between this pollinator and its plant. This modest insect is the sole pollinator for Joshua trees. In return, the pollinator uses the Joshua tree as a place to lay eggs and a source of food for emerging caterpillars.

5 Although not a pollinator, this insect disperses seeds by way of digging! They collect different seeds for food and bury them in their nest, allowing seeds to germinate in a new area.

6 This pollinator is not an insect or animal at all, but a natural element that spreads pollen and seeds through the air.

ANSWERS: 1. Monarch butterfly, 2. Costa's hummingbird, 3. Honey bee, 4. Yucca moth, 5. Harvester ants, 6. Wind.


We want to thank all of our new and renewing members who have supported us this past season. Year after year, your membership provides The Living Desert with a reliable and renewable source of support. You help give our animals and gardens the best possible care and help support our mission of desert conservation through preservation, education, and appreciation.

Observing some of the world’s endangered desert plants and animals in a natural setting is truly a unique experience. In the coming season, we hope you can enjoy the many valuable member benefits that come with being a member of The Living Desert. Not a member yet? Join today!

47900 Portola Ave. Palm Desert, CA 92260 Giraffe
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