The museum’s collections are the primary means by which it accomplishes its mission to inspire folks to live in harmony with the natural world by fostering an understanding and love for the Sonoran Desert.
Its desert environs are its most outstanding asset. The museum exhibits 100 acres of nearly untouched Sonoran Desert.
The outside experience is sublime. Unanticipated experiences – such as a soaking summer rain, a wealth of wildflowers on a hillside or an animal skirting a path, plus natural rock formations – are the most obvious means of accomplishing the museum’s mission. Collections and exhibits exist to augment and interpret its natural surroundings.
Most of these exhibits mimic natural habitats and the co-existence of animals, plants and geology. The museum’s fossils, minerals, plants and animals are native to the Sonoran Desert region, and there are few exceptions to that rule.
The museum’s animal collection consists of:
- 106 mammals of 31 taxa
- 241 birds of 72 taxa
- 361 reptiles of 86 taxa
- 122 amphibians of 23 taxa
- 10,700 fish of 9 taxa
- 840 arthropods of 78 taxa
The primary exhibit areas are: the Warden Aquarium, Reptile, Amphibian and Invertebrate Hall, Earth Sciences Center, Ancient Arizona, Mountain Woodland, Desert Grassland, Desert Loop Trail, Life on the Rocks, Cat Canyon, Riparian Corridor, Walk-in Aviary, Life Underground, and the Hummingbird Aviary.
Museum staff cares for about 40,000 plants (excluding grasses in its grassland exhibit), representing 1300 species. Some 1400 plant types are on view. These feature types that are naturally found in the area.
Because the museum’s goal is to show interrelationships, it incorporates geologic specimens and concepts in exhibits throughout the grounds, including animal exhibits.
Also, it has a wide and various collection of Sonoran Desert fossils, minerals and gems, which amount to 14,095 specimens, many of which can be seen at the Earth Sciences Center. The museum also shows a vertebrate paleontology collection.
On hand are stored collections of plant and animal parts used for reference, research and hands-on interpretation. The museum also hosts a reference library that relates primarily to the Sonoran Desert. This amount to a collection of more than 83 periodical subscriptions, 6,000 books and audio-visual material.
The museum’s animal and plant collection includes some 20 threatened or endangered species and hundreds of rare species. Several are part of recovery programs. By cooperating with federal and state agencies, its maintains a genetic refuge for endangered native fishes, a snake, and plants.
The museum also participates in state and federal recovery programs for the thick-billed parrot, the Mexican gray wolf and amphibians. Its captive breeding programs have resulted in the release of some animals to the wild: among them, golden eagles and Harris' hawks. Reproduction of other captive animals, known for their rarity, means they can be viewed, when collection from the “outside world” would not be impossible or inappropriate.
The museum is aware that a potential danger exists through the success of such museums, zoos or botanical gardens because some visitors may mistakenly become assured by the health and vitality of the collection that they become complacent about the condition of wild environments and species. The museum seeks to educate visitors by exhibiting and interpreting – and also by encouraging them to consider its wild and untouched areas as part of its collection to contemplate during their sojourn.
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