The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Collections

Our collection is the primary means by which we accomplish the mission of the Desert Museum "to inspire people to live in harmony with the natural world by fostering love, appreciation, and understanding of the Sonoran Desert."

Our natural setting is our most significant asset. We exhibit, though we did not collect, 100 acres of nearly pristine Sonoran Desert.

Spontaneous or unexpected experiences - a snake on the path, a hillside of wildflowers, a red rock canyon, a summer rain - these will always be the most powerful means of accomplishing our mission. The museum's exhibits and collections exist to augment and interpret these natural surroundings.

Most of our exhibits are living exhibits, which simulate natural habitats and their interrelationships of plants, animals and geology. Our plants, animals, minerals, and fossils are native to the Sonoran Desert region, with very few exceptions (an African euphorbia, for example, to illustrate convergent evolution, or a meteorite to interpret very early Earth history).

Our animal collection consists of:

We are caring for some 40,000 plants (not counting the grasses in our grassland exhibit), representing 1300 species (including varieties). Including plants that occur naturally on the grounds, a visitor can see 1400 kinds of plants at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Because we wish to demonstrate interrelationships, we incorporate geologic specimens and concepts in exhibits throughout the grounds, including animal exhibits.

In addition, we have an extensive Sonoran Desert region gem, mineral, and fossil collection totaling 14,095 catalogued specimens, some of which are on display at the Earth Sciences Center. Our relatively new vertebrate paleontology collection contains the first and only significant dinosaur skeleton from Southern Arizona.

We also have stored collections of plant and animal parts used for reference, research and hands-on interpretation. The museum has a general reference library of materials relating to desert ecology, particularly of the Sonoran Desert, for use by members, staff, and volunteers. The collection consists of over 6,000 books, 83 periodical subscriptions, and extensive audio-visual materials.

Our plant and animal collection includes about 20 endangered or threatened native species and hundreds of rare species. Several are part of recovery programs. For example, we have designed a research and conservation biology program for the endangered Isla San Esteban chuckwalla. In cooperation with state and federal agencies, we maintain genetic refugia for 3 endangered native fishes, 1 state endangered snake, and several endangered plants.

We are participating in federal or state recovery programs for the Mexican gray wolf, the thick-billed parrot, and several amphibians. Our captive breeding programs have resulted in the release of some animals to the wild: golden eagles and Harris' hawks, for example. Reproduction of other captive animals, many of them rare or sensitive, allows for their exhibition at this museum or elsewhere, when collection from the wild would be impossible or inadvisable.

We believe that a danger often accompanies the success of living museums, zoos or botanical gardens - and that is that people may be so assured and comforted by the health and vitality of the collection that they become complacent about the condition of wild environments and species. We seek to avoid this through techniques of exhibition and interpretation - and also by considering the wild and undeveloped portions of our grounds as part of our collection and by encouraging our visitors to contemplate and enjoy the whole as well as its parts.

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