The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert is set to reopen Monday morning, News Channel 3 has learned. This news comes after an extended closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The zoo has been putting together a robust coronavirus plan so that when it’s time to reopen park guests, staff and animals can remain safe.
Changes visitors will notice
According to the zoo's president and CEO, Allen Monroe, here are some of the changes you can expect once the zoo is allowed to reopen:
- Limiting guest admittance
- Timed entry tickets are required
- Some buildings and other confined spaces will be closed
- One way walking patterns will be used throughout the Park
- Gathering points for activities will be discontinued
- Frequently touched areas will be closed or disinfected regularly
- Staff and volunteers have received specific training related to COVID-19
- Physical distancing, face masks and other guidelines will be required based on the Riverside County Public Health Department guidelines
- Staff and volunteers will undergo a daily wellness screening
"Our goal is to make the guest experience as similar to preCOVID as possible," Monroe said. "We have closed some of the buildings where social distancing is not possible but all the major habitats are open with the animals guests love to see," he added.
When reopening, The Living Desert will be using its summer hours from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“We look forward to welcoming our community to safely enjoy the beautiful outdoor spaces of The Living Desert,” Allen Monroe, President/CEO of The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens said in a statement. “The health and well being of our guests, staff, and animals remains our top priority. We have been working diligently on our reopening plans to ensure that we follow all CDC, WHO, and local health and safety recommendations and orders.”
Zoo officials say the following protocols will be implemented as conditions of entry to visit. Guests are required to:
· Refrain from entering if they are showing any signs of illness, including fever and flu-like symptoms
· Wear face coverings (mask, bandana, or neck gaiter) while on grounds and in the parking lot for all guests 3 years and older; Face shields are acceptable for those who cannot wear other face coverings
· Maintain proper social/physical distancing of at least six feet
· Refrain from congregating with others that are not within their household
· Obey all posted signage, conditions for entry, and staff instructions
· Reserve advanced timed entry tickets for all guests and member visits
The impact of the pandemic
“We planned for almost any kind of emergency you can think of, whether it was earthquakes or fires but we had never planned for a pandemic so this took us a little bit by surprise,” President and CEO of the zoo, Allen Monroe told News Channel 3 in April.
The financial loss for the zoo huge.
“As a nonprofit organization, we rely almost entirely upon gate generated revenue to operate the park and as soon as that revenue got to zero we got into a little bit of a difficult situation financially,” Monroe said.
Over the course of what would have been three busy months for the zoo, they’re losing $3.5 million.
Asking the community to help
We asked Monroe how the community can help support The Living Desert during this crisis.
“Obviously go through our website or Facebook page and there is a 'Donate Now' on there where people can make donations of any kind on there that they’d like," he said.
Monroe also shared a touching story. "You know we got one donation that was only for five dollars and you might wonder about a five dollar donation and obviously every little bit helps but what I thought was most important was the little note that went with that donation was that was from someone who was laid off and that was all that they had to give us a surplus. They supported The Living Desert enough that they still thought that was important even though they had lost their job and so I know that we are connecting with our guests and audience on that level and it tells me how meaningful The Living Desert is to the local community,” he said.
You can also help out the animals by adopting them.
“Adopt a fennec fox or meerkat or a painted dog and that money will go to help support and care for those animals that are here,” Monroe said.
Adopt an animal here.
“We’re all going through a very difficult time," Monroe said. "We’ve got to figure out how to do this safely and uh re-open in a gradual fashion and bring our community back in line so we can all enjoy the wonderful things that the Coachella Valley has to offer,” he added.
Visit https://www.livingdesert.org/ to donate.
Debuting Australian Adventures
As the coronavirus pandemic was shuttering businesses across the world, the staff at The Living Desert had been preparing the final touches on a new exhibit, Australian Adventures.
It was set to open March 21. Now, it will open to its first visitors on Monday, June 15.
News Channel 3 was allowed exclusive access as the exhibit was being created.
The nearly one acre, $3 million exhibit is filled with Australian plants and animals. There are more than 50 species of plants, all native to Australia.
Some of the rocks in the exhibit were hand-painted to look like real sandstone.
The exhibit offers a unique immersive wallaby walkabout experience. Zoo officials tell News Channel 3 that this will still be available to guests as the pandemic precautionary measures continue.
However, these desert dwellers didn’t come from down under.
“These are not animals from the wildfires in Australia," Monroe said. "These are captive born species that have come from other zoos with active breeding programs," he added.
This new exhibit offers unique educational experiences to park guests.
“One of the things we are really passionate here at The Living Desert is the education of all of our guests," he said. "Whether that’s preschoolers that come here on a field trip all the way up to senior citizens that have the chance to come and learn all about what we’re doing here,” he added.
One opportunity to learn happens at their new weather station.
“We will have a weather station which will show real-time weather both here in the Coachella Valley as well as in Australia so you’ll be able to say okay it’s 80 degree and sunny here, what is the weather like in Australia this time and of course the seasons are reversed and so it’ll be great to have the connection internationally about things like weather and climate,” he said.
Whether you’re learning about weather, Australian deserts or the plants and animals that live there, you’ll experience something new as you wander with the wallabies through the exhibit.
“By the time you leave here you’ll have met the animals, you’ll have learned more about the biology, what makes them so unique and then what we can do to help both in Australia and also here in the California deserts so that we can help protect some of these amazing habitats,” Monroe said.