Living Desert Zoo to Open $ 17 Million Rhino Savanna in Palm Desert on Friday
The long wait to meet the new members of The Living Desert family is about to end.
On Friday, the public will have the chance to greet Jaali and Nia, the stars of a new 4-acre, $ 17 million Rhino Savanna that is home to 12 different species of animals.
A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Palm Desert Zoo.
The African black rhinos arrived at the zoo on October 20, after a road trip to 10 states. This week, some Living Desert members were able to see the new additions to the zoo during a smooth opening that required reservation.
Jaali (pronounced Jolly) is from Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Michigan, and Nia (pronounced Nya) is from Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Living Desert team of RoxAnna Breitigan, Director of Animal Care, oversaw the rhino relocation; Chief Veterinarian Dr Andrea Goodnight; and Heather Down, curator of animal care. They caravaned with an experienced transport team specializing in moving rhinos.
Throughout the trip, Jaali and Nia were monitored via constant CCTV and regular physical checks, in addition to several stops to provide food and water.
âThey are adapting very well to the new staff taking care of them,â said Living Desert President and CEO Allen Monroe in an interview with The Desert Sun at Rhino Savanna about a week before the opening.
Construction crews were still working hard on the zoo’s new habitat, which is also now home to three types of African antelope – waterbucks, springboks, and klipspringers – as well as two species of pelicans and a variety of other birds, as well as the “most large bare the habitat of the mole rat in North America, âsaid Monroe.
Two Rhinos Debut at Living Desert
Video: Two African black rhinos make their Living Desert debut
Jay Calderon, Palm Springs Desert Sun
Rhinos are listed as Critically Endangered, with fewer than 5,600 across Africa.
Black rhinos are not black but gray. They live in the tropical bushes and savannas of sub-Saharan and eastern Africa, mainly Kenya and Tanzania, with an introduced population in South Africa.
At Rhino Savanna, customers will find an education center with signs and videos providing information about the animals and what people can do to prevent their extinction. âWe want guests to leave with a better understanding and appreciation of rhinos and their plight and danger of extinction,â said Monroe.
Guests will enter the habitat through a concrete tunnel surrounded by fake rock formations, like the kopje rock formations in Tanzania.
Meet the blind and hairless mole rats
Inside the tunnel you will find the habitat of the naked mole rat, which includes a special observation cave created for children.
Blind, hairless hairless mole rats are part of the rodent family that live underground in burrows up to 6 Â½ feet deep in grassy and semi-arid regions.
Their lifespan is approximately 25 years. They rely on their sense of smell, touch, and hearing to navigate in the dark, using their two front teeth to dig in the dirt.
Their diet consists of roots and bulbs. Their burrows feature interconnected tunnels and special chambers for specific purposes, including food storage and rearing young. They live in colonies much like bees, each colony led by a mole rat that mates with only a few males, Monroe said.
âThey are so uniqueâ¦ that we think they will be a big hit with guests,â said Monroe.
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There is a path leading to a bridge over the tunnel that the rhinos can access, so guests can look up and see Nia or Jaali watching them as they enter the habitat, Monroe said.
A dual containment system around the habitat allows the ungulate stock – the waterbuck, springbok, and klipspringer – to move away from the rhinos, if they choose, to the grassy, ââshaded berm on the east side.
âThis was designed to make the animals, the guests and the staff all happy,â said Monroe.
The guards prepare meals for the animals
Animals were gradually added to the habitat, one species at a time, to give them plenty of time to get used to the new environment and to each other, Monroe said.
At the new Crash CafÃ© – a group of rhinos are known as the Crash – perched at a high end of the guest walkway, patrons can take in the unobstructed views of the zoo and surrounding mountains while sipping drinks and eating snacks.
Creating Rhino Savanna required 30,000 cubic meters of earth used to build and sculpt the habitat with its hills, pond, trees, plants and other items, Monroe said.
About 3,000 cubic meters of concrete was used in the foundation to meet California seismic regulations and to support the weight of the rhinos, which when mature will each weigh around 3,000 pounds, Monroe said.
Jaali, a male who turns 2 on December 24, currently weighs around 1,350 pounds. Niya, a female, is 3 years old and weighs around 1,800 pounds. The two are expected to mate, but it could take another five to six years before Jaali reaches sexual maturity, Monroe said.
The rhinos will spend their nights in a state-of-the-art 3,000 square foot barn that includes a built-in floor scale so their weight can be easily monitored. The facility includes a variety of booths and security cameras.
All of their vet care will be done in the barn, so they don’t have to be moved from their habitat for medicals, Monroe said.
They have poor eyesight and communicate with each other through vocalizations, sneezes and scent, according to the zoo’s website. The two horns of black rhinos are made of keratin – the same material as human fingernails, animal hooves, bird feathers and beaks, and the scales of reptiles and fish, the website says.
Two additional barns – one on the east side and one on the west – will house the hoofed animals, he said.
Zoo enthusiasts will have the opportunity to watch zookeepers prepare meals at the Nutrition Center, located at the edge of the habitat. Rhinos, for example, are vegetarians and eat various tree branches, hay, and alfalfa. Nia recently enjoyed munching on a pumpkin, said Erin Scott, senior director of marketing for The Living Desert.
Construction on the Rhino Savanna began just before the COVID-19 pandemic. Anticipating that there might be delays along the way, zoo officials decided early on to prioritize the eastern half of the habitat first, and that’s what opens on Friday.
The west side, with a second barn for hoofed animals and landscaping to complete, will be completed within the next four to six weeks, Monroe said.
The pandemic increases attendance
During the pandemic, The Living Desert, home to more than 160 different species of animals, saw an increase in visitors as people sought more outdoor activities.
âAn unexpected benefit of the pandemic for us as an outdoor place with a lot of distancing space is that for the past year it has been a place for families to get out and out of the house,â Monroe said.
The cancellation of international flights also during the pandemic drew more visitors to the “drive market” – other parts of southern California just hours from the Coachella Valley.
âWe also found that the drive-through market came here for a weekend dayâ to visit the zoo, Monroe said.
In addition, many Coachella Valley residents who had never visited the zoo began to visit the Living Desert, he said.
âSo I think a lot more people have found out about us,â he said.
The Living Desert is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is located at 47-900 Portola Ave., Palm Desert.
Customers are encouraged to purchase their tickets in advance online at livingdesert.org. The cost is $ 17.95 for children ages 3 to 12; $ 25.95 for people aged 62 and over and $ 27.95 for adults aged 13 and over. Prices are $ 2 higher per ticket when purchased at the door.
For more information, call (760) 346-5694.
Desert Sun reporter Sherry Barkas covers the towns of La Quinta, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TDSsherryBarkas