By Rick LoBello, Education Curator
Recognized globally as a hotspot for wildlife conservation, the Chihuahuan Desert surrounding El Paso is one of the most biologically diverse eco-regions in North America. Thanks to a City of El Paso bond election, the El Paso Zoo and Botanical Gardens has a new $16M Chihuahuan Desert exhibit that features the flora and fauna of this amazing region. The exhibit includes an arroyo and a flash flood feature that helps people better understand an important natural force helping to shape the desert landscape, plus common plants and animals including a number of endangered species.
The Lobo Vista classroom with viewing windows looks into Mexican wolf and Thick-billed Parrot exhibits. Both species are critically endangered and facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. There are also new exhibits for prairie dogs, desert birds, bolson tortoises, jaguars and peninsular pronghorns. An abandoned Ranch House exhibit is home to smaller animals of the desert that have moved inside. Just outside the house you can see coatimundis. Coatis are very rare in the northern Chihuahuan Desert and are the only carnivore in the Western Hemisphere that lives in groups made up of four to 25 individuals.
A mountain exhibit surrounded by a grassland zone is home to big cats like the jaguar and mountain lion. Natural landscapes featuring common plants of Chihuahuan Desert habitats help to tell the story of how wildlife and people have adapted to this arid region. Habitat zones include creosote, grasslands, pinyon-juniper woodlands and Madrean woodland.
The Chihuahuan Desert covers the surface of our planet for nearly 400,000 square miles. During the Pleistocene, not long after the last ice age, the climate changed dramatically in this part of North America. The ensuing aridity made way for a desert landscape.
According to the World Wildlife Fund this magnificent desert landscape is threatened by population growth, poor water management, agricultural expansion, invasive species, illegal wildlife trade and a lack of understanding about the desert’s ecological importance. The greatest challenge we have today in protecting the Chihuahuan Desert is finding ways to encourage people who live in the region to value the desert as an important part of their quality of life and as a natural resource important to their own survival. The new Chihuahuan Desert exhibit at the El Paso Zoo helps people of all ages connect with this natural resource with great opportunities to observe desert wildlife and plant species up close with appealing interpretive graphics.
In planning a trip to the El Paso Zoo and Botanical Gardens and in staying connected with zoo news and more, you can both visit and follow the Zoo’s interesting Conservation Education blog at http://www.elpasozoo.home.blog.