The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, Wonderfully Wild. The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, Wonderfully Wild.

Monday Minute

The Scoop on Poop

Mary Thomas, Assistant Conservation Scientist August 30, 2021

For our animals and plants, The Living Desert is a place of growth and reproduction. We care for many species, providing top-quality food for animals and resources as appropriate for plants. A consequence of all this biological activity is that we have lots of, um, biological waste products that we need to process.

So, to that effect, here’s the scoop on how we are innovatively dealing with our abundance of poop - and plants! Our plan not only prevents tons of carbon being emitted in the air while being transported and costing us many thousands of dollars annually to pay to have it removed, it turns this waste into resources.

The 80 acres of our zoo are filled with many hundreds of species of plants, growing with aplomb. If we were to let them all grow without grooming them, none of us could walk through the park without a machete! Our paths would be so overgrown with spiny desert plants and blocked by fallen trees that they would be nearly impenetrable. As such, our trees and shrubs are groomed daily. All this plant matter must go somewhere.

Similarly, The Living Desert would be covered in animal dung after a few weeks if we kept it all on grounds! Our animal team members eat and poop – a lot! Once our rhino arrive, they will almost double the amount of dung produced on grounds. We would soon be buried beneath the accumulated dung if we didn’t do something with all this organic waste.

Until a year ago, The Living Desert had to pay to send our plant and animal waste to the public biodigestor in the East Valley. We had to pay for trucks to transport the waste dozens of miles, producing carbon emissions and fumes from the trucks. Additionally, once they would have been properly processed, we viewed the wood and dung as lost resources that we could have used on grounds.

Enter the Chipper and the Biodigester! Thanks to the generosity of the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy and the prodigious coordination of Mary Thomas in TLD’s Conservation Department, we have acquired a woodchipper and a biodigestor for processing our dung and food waste.

These two machines will turn waste into valuable resources for the benefit of the zoo – and possibly for you!

Our new chipper can reduce a tree with a 12-inch diameter to a pile of wood chips in mere minutes. We use these wood chips for bedding, to cover pathways, and as mulch to help trees by reducing weed growth and retaining moisture.

Similarly, our biodigester can convert tons of dung and food waste to compost that is only 20% of the original weight every week. The biodigestor is a large machine that can take dung, hay, human food scraps, and even bones into useable compost in only 24 hours. Our biodigester heats the waste to 170˚F, actively mixes it together and breaks it down, removes the extra water, and produces sterile compost that is safe to use, even in indoors and potted plants.

We will be using the woodchips and compost on our grounds for many purposes, but we will also be sharing these resources with our partners and community members. Look for these opportunities soon.

This is just one of the many ways that we are maximizing how sustainable we can be here at The Living Desert, down to our plant waste and poop!

A quick timelapse video of The Living Desert’s new biodigester being unloaded and installed in place. This biodigester will enable us to convert over 1,000 pounds of animal dung into less than 200 pounds of valuable compost!

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