The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

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Tucson's Nature Wonder: the Desert Museum

This morning we made the beautiful drive across the Sonoran Desert to arrive in Tucson Mountain Park, which is home to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, established in 1952, by William Carr and Arthur Pack. Their vision was to create a living museum, where visitors could come see animals living in completely natural looking environments. Since childhood I have been visiting this location, enthralled by all of its animal species, and inspired to live a life of adventure and animals.

The first stop for many people is the mountain lion exhibit. This elusive desert cat has been an ambassador for the museum since 1952. Wow, look how beautiful that cat is. The big cat at the Desert Museum was found as about a four month old cub in California when his mother was killed. Obviously, too young to survive on his own in the wild, so that's how he came to us here.

So, this cat weighs about 100 pounds now, and will grow to be about 200 pounds. Yeah, almost 200 pounds! It's amazing even from a safe distance you can see how big this cat really is.

The great thing about this exhibit is that one of our goals is not only to create naturalistic, but also to create interesting environments for the animals. We vary sometimes feeds, we'll vary placement of food. So, this gives him a lot of choices, and choices are a really important thing to an animal in its environment. By hiding food throughout the enclosure, it forces him to almost have to hunt, and search out what it is he wants, using all of those natural abilities.

When you decide you want to see some other animals, you don't have to go far before you see Javelinas, this is like one of my favorite animals that lives out here in the Sonoran Desert.

What I know of javelinas is that they are these little power houses of muscle, and ferocity, and I mean, I can clearly see them, I mean, this guy's no bigger than a golden retriever, but he looks like he's built like a tank.

They're incredibly powerful little animals for their body size. Literally, just the muscles on the head, and the neck, and the shoulders support that, you know, the large jaws. They work together as a family to defend themselves, and defend their territory as well. They kind of like rubbing each other's butts on each other's head's. That's a social behavior. They have a musk gland, or a gland on the top of their back they'll rub as a way of sort of coating everybody in the same scent, and that's the way they identify themselves, so it's like a social grooming, and a bonding behavior.

So, javelinas typically feed on the prickly pear fruit, which you'll see seasonally, which they do really like is only around this time of year.

At the Desert Museum, you can also see Bighorn Sheep. Now, this is a very important part of the conservation work that is done here. These are Desert Bighorn, and they are native to the area, but the Desert Museum is also part of a captive breeding program with this species. They have just recently received a female from the Los Angeles zoo. She had a lamb about six months ago, which continues our breeding program, but also both her and her mother are unrelated to our male, which means they can continue that captive breeding program here at the Museum.

There is so much to experience at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and more animal and plant species than we could ever pack into a single visit. From rescuing animals to species survival plans, Arthur Pack and William Carr's original vision of a living museum has truly grown into one of the world's most renowned natural history, and zoological establishments.

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And if you're looking for another option to 'take in nature', but a little closer to home (perhaps for only a part of a morning or afternoon - though you could stay all day), without leaving town, check out Tucson Botanical Gardens, another of Tucson's wonderful treasures.