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Living Desert State Park

Updated: May 22, 2020

By Teri Burns

Carlsbad's Living Desert State Park has delighted visitors for decades with more than 40 animal species native to the Chihuahuan Desert and hundreds of succulents from around the world. However, the park has been sans visitors since the governor closed state parks across New Mexico in an attempt to control public gatherings and encourage social distancing during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Still, Living Desert staff have remained hard at work during this time taking care of the resident animals and plants and preparing the park for its eventual reopening.

“All of our animal care staff are essential,” said Director David Heckard, adding “The care of the animals has not suffered at all” during the shutdown.

Administrative staff also continues to work at the park, although they are maintaining social distancing as much as possible and are keeping separate from the animal care staff to help protect those essential to the wellbeing of the animals.

Animal care staff have also taken special precautions to protect the animals, as well, especially since tigers at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for the coronavirus. Staff use facial coverings and personal protective gear to protect themselves and the mountain lions and bobcats at the Living Desert from any possible transmission of the virus.

“We don’t know much about cats and dogs as carriers or transmitters,” Heckard said, adding the park is connected to animal health professionals across the country to monitor any updates on possible disease contraction or transmission.

Meanwhile, the park staff is hard at work on the park itself, improving exhibit areas and preparing to reopen Friday, May 15.

“We’ve been trying to do things while the park is closed to make the park better for when we reopen,” Heckard said. “We’re using all the time we have.”

A plan is in place to continue social distancing for the time being.

“When we reopen, there will be some changes to protect the public,” Heckard said.

Part of that plan entails removing the interactive exhibits and closing buildings that do not have exhibits in them to reduce the instances of visitors being in enclosed spaces. They are also installing barriers in front of the cat exhibits to further distance visitors from the animals—protecting both visitors and the park’s cats.

For the most part, life has been relatively normal for the park’s resident animals, Heckard said, although mammals like the wolves, mountain lions and bobcats have seemed to miss the public interaction.

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