My 45-year journey in the Chihuahuan Desert began in 1975 when I was hired as a park ranger naturalist in Big Bend National Park. My greatest joy ever since has been helping people connect with and appreciate this part of our world. Today as the Education Curator of the El Paso Zoo I am working with staff and others who love this eco-region in pulling together a Chihuahuan Desert Conference on November 6-7 2019.
During the Icebreaker we plan to show the River and the Wall, an important new documentary
that follows five friends on an immersive adventure through the unknown wilds of the Texas borderlands as they travel 1200 miles from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico on horses, mountain bikes, and canoes.
The film was recently awarded a Jury Prize at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival.
Why a Chihuahuan Desert Conference? All one has to do is look around where you live to see how rampant urban sprawl is changing the landscape and destroying habitat and wildlife corridors. As the world’s population reaches the 8 billion mark, the future of humanity and the environment hangs in the balance. The Chihuahuan Desert like almost every eco-region on the planet is constantly threatened. The conference hopes to help people connect face to face and hopefully build and renew important collaborative relationships. El Paso’s number one outdoor conservation education center, the El Paso Zoo, is the perfect setting.
About eight years ago when the Zoo crafted a ten-year Master Plan, the staff decided that the number one goal should be helping people discover and value the natural environment where they live. When you look around El Paso and see how it has grown over the years it is easy to see how important it is for people who live here to value the natural landscape.
When it opens this fall the Chihuahuan Desert Exhibit will play a major role in helping the Zoo accomplish its mission of celebrating the value of animals and natural resources and in creating opportunities for people to rediscover their connection to nature. The $14 million signature project will replace approximately 20 percent of the Zoo’s exhibits.
The Chihuahuan Desert experience will highlight the flora and fauna of the region. The exhibit will include an arroyo helping people to better understand one of the desert’s important naturally occurring environmental features. A new Lobo Vista classroom with viewing windows looking into endangered Mexican wolf and Thick-billed Parrot exhibits will help Education Specialists present engaging programs for school groups. There will also be new exhibits for prairie dogs, desert birds, bolson tortoises, jaguars and endangered peninsular pronghorns. An abandoned old ranch house exhibit will be home to smaller animals of the desert that have moved inside. Just outside the house there will be a family of coatis.
A mountain exhibit surrounded by a grassland zone will be home to big cats like the jaguar and mountain lion. Natural landscapes featuring common plants of Chihuahuan Desert habitats will help to tell the story of how wildlife and people have adapted to this arid region. Habitat zones will include creosote, grasslands, pinyon-juniper woodlands and Madrean woodland.
Leading a nature hike in the Grapevine Hills of Big Bend National Park