Dynamic and innovative exhibit connects visitors to native habitats
The all-new area serves as home to animals from one of North America’s largest deserts, and includes Mexican grey wolves, mountain lions, jaguars, prairie dogs, pronghorns, coati, thick-billed parrots, barn owls, bolson tortoises, coach whip snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, and black widow spiders.
“With the opening of the Chihuahuan Desert, we aim to motivate guests and their families to go and explore these stunning and varied environments in our surrounding State and National Parks,” said El Paso Zoo director Joe Montisano. “From the wonders of wildlife in their own backyards to the natural Chihuahuan Desert itself, we hope to facilitate personal connections that inspire real conservation action on the part of our visitors.”
Guests enter the Chihuahuan Desert area through a recreated arroyo (a dry riverbed, which in nature, floods with water during times of heavy rain), and first encounter a stunning new Mexican grey wolf sculpture by artist Andy Dufford. The exhibit design was carefully composed to preserve a large number of existing mature trees; which, along with ample new shade structures, make the area comfortable and inviting for visitors. The nearby prairie dog habitat offers the guests to meet the animals nose-to-nose through pop-up domes and crawl spaces.
Funded by the recent Quality of Life bond, the central feature of the new 2.3-acre Chihuahuan Desert is a 45’ mountain, inspired by incredible rock features in the nearby Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site. To reveal the power and dangers of storms in the nearby deserts, the mountain recirculates 10,000 gallons of water every five minutes to give guests a thrilling simulation of a flash flood. The central habitat is home to jaguars and mountain lions, able to be rotated through the exhibits and visible from all sides of the mountain. A mesh barrier separates big cats from habitats at the base of the mountain where numerous herbivores graze among native plants, all seemingly inhabiting the same exhibit.
Walking around the mountain, visitors can find a new classroom and interpretive experience nestled between the Mexican grey wolf and thick-billed parrot breeding centers. These two endangered animal species are now bolstered by new state-of-the-art breeding facilities, providing off-exhibit and naturalized underground dens, yards, maternity holding, and incubation to help re-establish healthy populations in the wild.
An additional feature of the new exhibit invites visitors to pass beneath two abandoned bridges that allow jaguars to cross between the mountain and their individual exhibit spaces. Walking around the space, guests can experience theater seating integrated into the mountain, where Zoo staff provide big cat interpretive programs. A new interior exhibit simulates a ranch house, overtaken by many smaller native animals, such as coati, owls, amphibians, reptiles and arachnids, educating guests on the animals found closest to their homes.
For more adventurous guests, the exhibits are also complemented by a brand new, three-story Copper Canyon Challenge Ropes Course, providing stunning views of the Zoo and the new Chihuahuan Desert.
“The pinnacle mission of El Paso’s new exhibit space was to provide a healthy and stimulating environment in which these critical, local animal species can thrive and inspire passion and conservation action in guests,” said PGAV Destinations vice president John Kemper. “One of the unique design approaches to accomplish that mission was to reveal the five different climate zones of the Chihuahuan Desert – a diversity most guests aren’t aware of – while providing a dynamic and changing environment.”
Additional teams collaborating on the Chihuahuan Desert exhibit include general contractor Jordan Foster, civil engineers Quantum Engineering, Inc., structural engineers Coffman Engineers, Inc., MEPFP/lighting engineers exp, landscape designers Zoo Horticulture Consulting & Design, water treatment engineers Satchell Engineering & Associates, and local architectural liaison Carl Daniel Architects.
About El Paso Zoo
The El Paso Zoo is a 35-acre facility that houses animals representing over 220 species, including critically endangered species. Accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), the El Paso Zoo celebrates the value of animals and natural resources and creates opportunities for people to rediscover their connection to nature. http://www.elpasozoo.org/