It seemed as if everyone that had ever been to Tucson and everyone that lives in Tucson recommended that we visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The Desert Museum is actually a combination of a zoo, a natural history museum, an aquarium and a botanical garden.
We were especially interested in seeing the raptor free flight presentations where multiple handlers get the birds to fly outdoors in nature but up close to the guests. There are two a day, and we caught all of one and most of the other – they were amazing.
It was the New Years holiday week so the museum was packed, in fact, one of the ladies working at the gift shop told us this was the largest crowd she’d seen – yikes! Fortunately, the only place where it felt super crowded was actually the raptor free flight, as people were packed into two specific areas. Even so, the way this demonstration was set up, each bird flies back and forth and perches on different trees all around various spots where the crowd is gathered, and so everyone has an opportunity to get multiple good views of each bird – well done!
The Desert Museum is the only zoological park that features plants and animals from one region, the Sonoran Desert, demonstrating their interdependence. Since a large part of the desert is in Mexico, the museum collaborates with organizations in Mexico to provide educational programs and conduct research. This place is awesome!
The museum also has lots of very knowledgable docents spread out throughout the exhibits. All docents complete a rigorous 15 week training, and they are very friendly and informative.
One of our favorite exhibits at the museum was the hummingbird aviary; I never knew there were so many types of hummingbirds! Another was the desert loop trail, which has lots of agaves and palo verde trees, and coyotes and other animals in their natural settings.
And my favorite animal from the desert loop trail was the javelina (pronounced as if in Spanish havelina). Javelinas are peccaries and they are members of the same suborder as pigs, Suina. They have tiny dainty legs and big eyelashes and are truly adorable. We keep hoping to see them in the wild since they are not aggressive.
Last, but not least, we saw an interesting presentation about gila monsters and rattlesnakes. Both animals were brought out and placed on a table while the presenters provided fun, interesting and scary facts about them.
Since the audience included kids, part of the presentations was a bit basic, but it was cool to see these very dangerous animals up close.
We also learned that about 3/4 of the incidents of people getting bitten by gila monsters or rattlesnakes are caused by the person wanting to interact with the animal. What???!!! And the three most common characteristics of the majority of those unfortunate people are: 1.Male 2.Young and 3.Intoxicated. Gila monsters are actually shy and slow moving, but, if threatened, they will clamp on very tight, and, what probably makes them so scary, they have to chew in order to release their venom. That’s one way to sober up!
Update: We’re currently in Phoenix, having visited Sedona after Tucson, but are catching up on the blog and two more posts on Tucson area visits are coming up – lots to see there!