The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens 50th Anniversary

50 years
of wild

Take a look back at 50 years of Wonderfully Wild history as we celebrate our Golden Anniversary as an acclaimed desert conservancy, environmental advocate, educational institution, wildlife reserve, endangered species champion, nature park, and visitor destination. By following our hearts and vision, The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens has evolved into an internationally respected organization which proudly represents the Coachella Valley and its beautiful splendor to the rest of the world. Thank you for joining us on this journey’s past, present, and future.

take a
‘scroll’ down
memory lane


1970 original zoo
1970 trails
1970 boyscouts
1970 original zoo 1970 trails 1970 boyscouts
  • Founded by a group of forward-thinking leaders including trustees of Palm Springs Desert Museum (now the Palm Springs Art Museum)
  • Karen Sausman hired as resident naturalist; Became first President/CEO; Served the organization for 40 years
  • Administration building, gift shop, and theater were dedicated
  • Kit fox, Twix, arrived and soon became ambassador and logo inspiration
  • First admission charged: Adults 50¢ Children FREE
  • Constructed Zoo facilities, bighorn sheep habitat, mammal & reptile building, small animal habitat, and walk-thru aviaries
  • Foxpaws became the official membership newsletter
  • Developed Mojave Garden as a replica Mojave Desert landscape
  • Boy Scouts helped clear the inaugural 3-mile nature trail
  • Rejuvenated existing oasis garden, labeled plants with names and details
  • Grew from an interpretive nature trail and preserve to a Zoo and Botanical Garden
  • Expanded to 1,200 acres; preserved 1,000 acres in their natural state
1970 1970


1980 van
1980 bighorn
1980 Steve and Karen
  • Operated with an annual budget exceeding $1 million and 12 full-time staff members
  • Incorporated as an independent, non-profit entity
  • Hosted first annual Concert on the Green presenting Bob Crosby & his Orchestra featuring The Bobcats
  • Expanded facilities including new education center, community recycling center, veterinary clinic, and greenhouse
  • Featured live music with Jazzoo Evenings
  • Expanded conservation, preservation, and aid to endangered species by hosting 5 slender-horned gazelles
  • Expanded participation in the Species Survival Plan with Arabian oryx, Grevy’s zebra, and bighorn sheep
  • Became an accredited member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, now known as Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)
  • Hosted Steve Chase Office Opening & Gala Fundraiser
  • Dr. Jane Goodall attended Celebrity Forum and other zoo events
  • Held the Zoo’s first annual Earth Day celebration
1980 van 1980 bighorn 1980 Steve and Karen
1980 1980


1990s Eagle Canyon Bald Eagle
1990s cheetah
2020s Wallaby
  • Opened Eagle Canyon, home to mountain lions, Mexican wolves, javelinas, bobcats, badgers, and various birds
  • Launched seasonal events: Howl-o-Ween, Eggstravaganza, and WildLights (featuring a G-scale model trains display)
  • Opened the popular Meerkat Café
  • Celebrated the Zoo’s 25th Anniversary
  • Welcomed meerkats, addax, cheetah, warthog, cinereous vulture, and Waldraap ibis
  • Walt Disney animation artists studied and sketched the Zoo's meerkats for 1994 "The Lion King" movie
  • Premiered daily Wild Wonders shows in newly built amphitheater
  • Designed the East African Garden, Palms of the World Garden, and The Demonstration Garden
  • Opened Village WaTuTu including events center and habitats showcasing striped hyenas, weaverbirds, camels, ankole cattle, and Nigerian dwarf goats
  • Contributed to the Grevy's zebra endangered species population with birth of a new foal
1990s Eagle Canyon Bald Eagle 1990s cheetah 1990s village
1990 1990


2000 giraffes
2000s Butterfly
2000s Carousel
2000 giraffes 2000s Butterfly 2000s Carousel
  • Hosted the World Zoo Organization international conference for zoo directors as the first USA host in 25 years
  • Completed the Madagascar Garden modeled after the richly diverse flora of the African island
  • Model trains started running as a permanent year-round attraction
  • Welcomed reticulated giraffes & ostriches
  • Opened the Tennity Wildlife Hospital & Conservation Center and Gecko Gulch, a one-acre interactive children’s play park and picnic area
  • Original butterfly & hummingbird pavilion opened
  • Opened Amazing Amphibians: Frogs On The Edge, an exhibit of frogs, toads and salamanders, dedicated to raising awareness about the endangerment of amphibians
  • Longtime president & CEO Karen Sausman retired after 40 years of service; Stacey Johnson joined as new President/CEO
  • Opened the Steve Chase Administration Building, including an exquisite collection of California landscape paintings
  • Opened the Endangered Species Carousel
  • Started the seasonal Brew at the Zoo event
  • Began the annual Mojave Maxine Emergence Contest, engaging K-12 students throughout nine Southern California counties
2000 2000


2010 jaguar cub
2010 entrance remodel
2010 new entrance
2010 jaguar cub 2010 entrance remodel 2010 new entrance
  • Introduced critically endangered Peninsular pronghorn
  • Opened all-ages interactive Discovery Center
  • Welcomed jaguars and the subsequent birth of cubs
  • Launched the Wildlife on Wheels program
  • Allen Monroe appointed as President/CEO
  • Debuted Zoorassic Park show promoting education about extinction and conservation
  • Expanded Pride of the Desert $34 million capital campaign
  • Celebrated grand opening of new entrance (Crossroads of Conservation, Phase 1)
  • Accepted into the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as one of only 9 AZA members
  • Named lead for AZA’s Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program for the endangered vaquita
  • Established the Desert Carnivore Conservation Center dedicated to the sustainability of small desert animals
  • Celebrated the healthy birth of 6 African wild dog puppies
  • Named to Conde Nast Traveler's list of 10 Best Zoos in the USA
  • Awarded 2019 Platinum Seal of Transparency by GuideStar for non-profit fiscal responsibility
  • Awarded USA Today’s 10BEST Readers’ Choice Travel Award for Best Zoo Lights
2010 2010


2020s Wallaby
2020s Rhino
2020s Lions
  • President/CEO Allen Monroe leads the Zoo’s 2020 vision for the future
  • Australian Adventures to open March 2020 with wallaby, Echidna, emu, and kookaburra
  • Anticipated opening of habitats for Rhinos and other African species (Crossroads of Conservation, Phase 2)
  • Expected opening of the Lion Savannah and Special Event Center (Crossroads of Conservation, Phase 3)
2020s Wallaby 2020s Rhino 2020s Lions
2020 2020