The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, which closed last week for the second time since the start of the pandemic due to the state’s stay-at-home order, reopened Thursday after a successful lobbying effort by local officials.

The cities of Palm Desert, Indian Wells and Rancho Mirage, along with the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, sent letters to Riverside County officials, maintaining that the Living Desert should be classified as an “outdoor recreational facility” instead of a zoo under the stay-at-home order due to its plethora of hiking trails and botanical gardens. Most of the zoo’s animal exhibits are also housed outside.

“After legal review, the city of Palm Desert issued a determination that the Living Desert was officially classified as an outdoor recreation facility,” according to a zoo statement released Wednesdsay.

The regional stay-at-home order, spurred by an uptick in coronavirus infections, went into effect Dec. 6 just before midnight for the Southern California region and is set to remain in place until at least Dec. 28. The zoo announced it was closing soon after.

“The Living Desert is known for a variety of attributes including being a beautiful place to walk and hike,” said Allen Monroe, the zoo’s president and CEO. “We are grateful that we can continue to provide our community the opportunity to safely connect with nature during these challenging times.”

The 80-acre zoo reopened at 8 Thursday morning amid similar protocols compared to its first coronavirus-related shutdown and subsequent reopening over the summer, which include required face coverings, a cap on guest capacity and required advanced reservations.

All food and beverage options will also be closed, along with indoor exhibit spaces, outdoor play spaces, giraffe feeding, private tours and shows, and other aspects of zoo operations that typically see groups of people gather.

The gift shop will remain open with a 20% cap on guest occupancy.

WildLights, the zoo’s seasonal light show, remains canceled, although officials said it may be rescheduled.

Additional information about the zoo’s coronavirus protocols can be found at

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