Launch - First Look - July 2018


“The Chihuahuan Desert” exhibit at the El Paso Zoo will highlight Mexican gray wolves, mountain lions, sand cranes, Bolson tortoises, scorpions, and more when it opens in 2019. (Credit: El Paso Zoo)

New El Paso Zoo Exhibit to Spotlight Local Environment

By Keith Miller

The El Paso Zoo in El Paso, Texas, broke ground on “The Chihuahuan Desert,” a $14.2 million exhibit focusing on the animals that live in North America’s most diverse desert. 

“One of the most important and recent trends in zoos is to exhibit and celebrate the plants and animals that live in the immediate region, rather than displaying exotic wildlife from across the planet,” explains Zoo Director Steve Marshall.

The zoo is located within the Chihuahuan Desert, where the new 2.3-acre attraction will be home to mammals like Mexican gray wolves, mountain lions, and jaguars. Birds such as the thick-billed parrot, sand crane, and barn owl will join reptiles including the coachwhip snake and Bolson tortoise. Designers also plan to create habitats for smaller creatures like tarantulas and scorpions. 

The central feature of the exhibit will be a 45-foot-tall mountain, inspired by the rock features of the nearby Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site. The El Paso Zoo believes the mountain and a planned water feature will allow for jaguars and mountain lions to be rotated through the exhibit.

As visitors walk around the mountain, they’ll not only spot the big cats, but also find a classroom and interpretive experiences located between the Mexican gray wolf and thick-billed parrot breeding centers. The zoo says it’s carefully utilizing innovative breeding programs for the endangered animals that are vital to the region’s ecosystem and history.

Guests will enter the new area through a recreated arroyo—a dry riverbed that floods during heavy rains. Designed by PGAV Destinations, the exhibit was fashioned to preserve a large number of existing mature trees that provide shade for guests.

Visitors will also pass underneath an enclosed bridge where jaguars will cross between the mountain and their individual habitats. Guests will also find new theater seating integrated into the mountain, where zoo staff will provide big cat programs.

Construction on “The Chihuahuan Desert” will be completed in May 2019 and should open the following autumn after the animals acclimate to their new environments.