The Living Desert
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About Us

Our Mission

The Living Desert’s mission is desert conservation through preservation, education and appreciation.

The objectives of The Living Desert are:

  • to preserve a portion of the Colorado Desert in its natural state;
  • to foster, through interpretive exhibits, programs and publication, an awareness of, and an appreciation for, the variety of plants and animals in worldwide ecosystems;
  • to build up under controlled conditions, populations of various species of desert animals and plants threatened with extinction in the wild state;
  • and to foster through cooperative research and educational programs, biological studies contributing to the protection of desert species in a wild state.

Our Organization

We are a non-profit, 501c3 (exempt from taxation) organization with a volunteer Board of Trustees (40), and a paid CEO/President.

The Living Desert’s Board of Trustees is made up of business and community leaders who work with the organization to secure gifts for capital, programming and endowment expansion. Its purpose is to support and enhance zoological programs by providing facilities, funds and advice. The President and the Trustees oversee the Zoo Endowment which helps to provide long-term stability for The Living Desert.


Allen Monroe Allen Monroe

Allen Monroe has a background in environmental stewardship for conservation organizations, and brings a wealth of experience to effectively carry on The Living Desert’s mission and legacy. “My experience in field research and working directly with animals transitioned into organizational leadership, but my passion has always been and remains environmental stewardship and engaging audiences with the conservation message,” says Monroe. He has a 25 year-plus history in project management and business development within conservation organizations throughout the United States. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Wildlife and Fisheries from Texas A&M University and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Texas. His previous work experience includes Director of the North Carolina Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores, Executive Director of the Capital of Texas Aquarium in Austin, Director of husbandry at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Curator at the Indianapolis Zoo, Zookeeper at the Fort Worth Zoo, as well as operating his own biological research consulting firm.

Dwight MiddendorfDwight Middendorf
Director of Finance

Dwight graduated from Arizona State University and has over 40 years of financial, tax and operational experience in both not-for-profit, for-profit and government entities. He also has domestic and international experiences having worked in large; medium and small entities.

mike directorMike Chedester
Director of Education

Mike graduated from California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo and was a classroom science teacher for 16 years before joining The Living Desert as Curator of Education in 2002 and Director of Education in 2015. Mike directs the volunteer/docent program that includes 500 active members. He has been instrumental in creating natural science based community and school programs. Programs such as ZooCamp, Starry Safari Sleepovers, “Me & You in the Garden” and The Living Desert University, helping community members young and old appreciate and learn about their desert home. He serves as an Advisory member of the Indio High School Agri-Science Department. Is a graduate of the 2010 class of Leadership Coachella Valley.

Mike is a professional member of AZA (Association of Zoo’s and Aquariums) and The NAI (National Association for Interpretation), where he is a certified as an Interpretive Trainer and Guide. He also belongs to and holds a leadership role in many state, regional and local organizations such as:

    • Environmental Education Collaborative of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties
    • Museum Educators of Southern California
    • California Science Teachers Association

In 2010 Mike received the Voluntary Public School Choice Award from Desert Sands Unified School District, the Golden Apple award from Palm Springs Unified School District, for his leadership in bringing quality educational programs to the students of the Coachella Valley in 2012 and the Angel Light Leadership Academy Above & Beyond Award in 2015.

Mikes passion for education, horticulture, desert ecology and people is a great fit for his position at The Living Desert as Director of Education.

RoxAnnaRoxAnna Breitigan
Director of Animal Programs

Roxanna Breitigan is the Director of Animal Programs of The Living Desert. She is responsible for overseeing the African and North American animal sections, veterinary care, commissary, wildlife programs and outreach. Originally a native of southern California where she graduated from Cal Poly with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Animal Sciences, RoxAnna most recently worked at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado where she was the Animal Care Manager.

Jan HawkinsJan Hawkins

Director of Development

Hawkins brings over a decade of fundraising experience to the zoo, including serving as director of development at both the College of the Desert Foundation and Boys & Girls Clubs of Coachella Valley.
“The Living Desert is unlike any other place in the desert,” said Hawkins. “I’m excited to be involved in furthering their mission of education through conservation.”

Hawkins is a member of Associated Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and served four years as co-chair for National Philanthropy Day (NPD). She was honored as the 2015 NPD Fundraising Professional of the Year in November, 2015. Hawkins earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from University of California, Riverside.
Other community awards include being named as the 2006 37th California Senatorial District “Woman of the Year” and receiving the City of Indian Wells ATHENA Award for volunteer service.
Jan lives with her husband Jim, a Superior Court Judge for Riverside County, two cats and German shepherd in Indian Wells.

DawnPetrick_webDawn Petrick

Director of Park Services and Guest Relations

Dawn Petrick is the Director of Park Services for The Living Desert. She leads and manages all aspects of guest services at The Living Desert including admissions, membership, public relations, marketing, special events and park attractions.

She joined The Living Desert with more than 20 years of experience in marketing. Her extensive background includes having worked for some of the biggest casino companies in the world, with responsibilities ranging from advertising and branding to planning events and employee training to help grow loyalty programs.

Petrick studied Political Science at Purdue University (Hammond). Originally from Chicago, she currently resides in Palm Desert with her husband and dog, and currently volunteers with the Pacific Crest Trail Association.

Brian Sawicki

Director of Park Design Maintenance & Garden

Brian is the Director of Park Design Maintenance & Garden. He joined the Living Desert in January with more than 37 years’ experience in the maintenance field, 14 as a Director.

Originally from Pittsburgh PA, he move to Riverside CA. after high school in 1978, Brian has been in the maintenance field since 1978, first as a machine shop mechanic, field mechanic, independent contractor, preventative maintenance mechanic, Director of maintenance and operations at a community college and Director of M&O at one of SO Cal’s five star continuing care retirement communities.

Sawicki studied at the University of La Verne where he received an Associates of Science degree in industrial electricity, an Associates of Arts degree in Liberal Arts from Chaffey Community College, and a Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management degree.

Terrie Terrell

Director of Human Resources

Terrie Terrell is the Director of Human Resources for The Living Desert.

She joined The Living Desert with more than 25 years of experience in Human Resources with a specialization in talent management including workforce planning, recruiting, performance management, employee development and employee engagement. She also has significant experience managing employee relations, benefits, compensation, and compliance issues. Her career has included management positions with large and small companies in various industries including manufacturing, financial services, casinos, and not-for-profit organizations.

She studied paralegal studies at Lamar University and holds several Human Resources professional certifications. Terrie lives in Palm Springs with her husband and their three rescue dogs.


Dr. James Danoff-Burg
Director of Conservation

Dr. James Danoff-Burg is an educator, conservation strategist, and biodiversity scientist focused on the human dimensions of conservation. For the past two decades, his research, teaching, and conservation implementation actions have focused on reducing the negative effects of human activities on biodiversity through community-based conservation education.

James has been a consultant on sustainable community-based conservation to the governments of countries as diverse as the Dominican Republic, Cambodia, United Arab Emirates, India, and Japan. Integral to all of these efforts is his deep commitment to inspiring hope for the future across the 17 countries in which he has worked.

His experience in community-driven education, strategic planning, evaluation, community-based conservation, biodiversity surveys, and public outreach have positioned him as a global leader in conservation, education, and strategy. He has been a professor and researcher at Columbia University for 14 years and currently has an appointment at California State University San Marcos. James has also been Director of Conservation Education at the San Diego Zoo, an independent researcher and evaluator for zoos and aquariums around the world, and currently directs Helping Rhinos USA working to conserve these majestic animals in Africa.

Dr. Danoff-Burg’s formal graduate training focused on insect and marine invertebrate conservation and evolutionary ecology. He earned a B.A. from the University of Michigan and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Kansas, after which he was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Vermont and a Samuel Research Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

The importance of hope for the future of conservation is the central idea in all of Dr. Danoff-Burg’s work. When people – from early childhood to community elders to political leaders – learn about, develop, and implement successful approaches and tools, they are empowered to live sustainably with our rich natural world.


Erin Scott
Senior Manager of Marketing and Public Relations

Jared Landfried
Manager of Events and Promotions

Kathy Lambert
Senior Manager of Membership and Guest Relations

Elisa Escobar
Manager of Admissions and Membership

Roshan Patel
Senior Manager of Sales and Strategic Alliances

Adela Ayon
Manager of Attractions, Tours and Adopt!

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