Invisible Barriers Dot Desert Museum

Story by Tom Kleespie
February 19, 2013

While visiting the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum west of Tucson, most visitors marvel at the picturesque native flora and fauna. There are more than 300 animal species and nearly 1,200 plant species on the museum's grounds woven into different stories about the Sonoran Desert.

What most do not pay attention to is the behind-the-scenes efforts that are required to display all those stories. It's the delicate mix of exhibiting animals while making the infrastructure as invisible as possible.

"We have to find ways to create nature in a way that will contain the animal and allow us access to them," says Pete Oftedahl, curator of exhibits at the museum. "That's the biggest challenge, keeping everything as natural as possible, looking like we have built these exhibits into an area that has always been here."

Many of the technologies were developed at the desert museum and are in use in zoos worldwide, including use of water features and fabricated rocks and facades that serve as "natural" barriers between viewer and viewed.