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“Dad! Look!”

Three-year old Anthony Contrades runs toward his dad as he watches a life-size Tyrannosaurus rex lean down and roar.

Visitors of all ages pointed and gawked as they walked through the Phoenix Zoo’s newest exhibit, Dinosaurs in the Desert. The interactive experience features 23 dinosaurs, 17 of which are animatronic, spread out along the Desert Life Trail. Zoo members had the exclusive chance Tuesday to tour the exhibit, which opens to the public Friday.

little boy looks at t-rex

Anthony Contrades, 3, looks up at the tyrannosaurus rex. He says the t-rex is his favorite dinosaur because "he's the biggest." (Photo by Tynin Fries/Cronkite News)

Guests can see many types of dinosaurs including the brachiosaurus, stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus rex. Anthony’s favorite is a T-rex because “he’s the biggest.” 

Some of the dinosaurs are even named after fictional characters visitors might recognize like Cera, the triceratops. 

Man holding triceratops

(Photo left: Mike Foley, manager of trail experiences at the Phoenix Zoo, holds Cera, a triceratops, at the Dinosaurs in the Desert exhibit. (Photo by Tynin Fries/Cronkite News))

“The kids just love the dinos,” said Mike Foley, manager of trail experiences. “One of our dinos, Cera, is based on the character from ‘(The) Land Before Time.’” Although the movie was released nearly 30 years ago, “People are still crazy about dinosaurs.”

The animatronic dinosaurs come from The Dinosaur Co., which works with zoos and aquariums across the country to bring these exhibits to life. Phoenix Zoo officials said its exhibit is unique because it’s the only one set in a desert.

“This is the first time it’s being done in the desert, so we have actually chosen to paint our dinosaurs accordingly,” said Kerri Baumann, digital communication strategist with the zoo. “A number of our dinosaurs are painted like the chiricahua leopard frog, jaguars and chuckwallas that are native to Arizona or species that we are helping to conserve.”

The exhibit aims to not only teach visitors about dinosaurs in an interactive way, but it hopes to highlight the Phoenix Zoo’s conservation efforts. 

“We are hoping that everyone just comes out and enjoys learning about dinosaurs and hopefully learns a little bit about conservation in the process,” Baumann said. 

The exhibit runs through April and costs an additional $5 for general admission and $4 for zoo members. Visitors can see the dinosaurs anytime the zoo is open, and the exhibit will feature holiday changes around Halloween and Christmas.

dinosaur "skin"

One of the Phoenix Zoo's "dinosaur keepers" tells guests how the animatronic dinosaurs are covered with thick "skin" to protect the robotic technology that allows them to move and make noise. (Photo by Tynin Fries/Cronkite News)


Animatronic dinosaurs like the dilophosaurus interact with guests at the Phoenix Zoo's Dinosaurs in the Desert exhibit. (Photo by Tynin Fries/Cronkite News)

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