Friday, January 22, 2016

The lion's share! Las Vegas animal park provides thrills a casino can't



The Lion Habitat Ranch is a wonderfully run operation where you can get up close and personal with these gorgeous lions. 


Families and nature lovers take a break from Las Vegas action to enjoy
the Lion Habitat Ranch not far from the famous Strip, and a relaxing break.

JUST A HALF-HOUR from the glitter of the Las Vegas strip, a fascinating haven for lions exists.
Call it a proud pride!
Far from the happy noise and chaos of Sin City, another kind of jackpot awaits the Vegas visitor.
This heavenly enterprise is Lion Habitat Ranch, a non-profit endeavor spawned by Keith Evans and his wife Beverly.  They fell in love with the lions and share them with visitors in a wonderful quiet environment minutes from Las Vegas.
A guinea fowl poses for the photographer.
This beautifully cared for lion has a look at his viewers at the habitat.
He was one of the MGM Grand exhibit lions before that closed.
Our visit was a calming balance to the slots, lights and high-speed city life -- the essential but exhausting pace that draws us all to Las Vegas.
THESE CONTENTED CATS are safe and sound at their 8.5-acre ranch, located about 12 miles from the Las Vegas Strip. On weekends, you can watch the lions romp, play, have lunch and rest. (They sleep more than 14 or 15 hours a day!)
If some of the faces look familiar, that's because they were stars at their former habitat inside MGM Grand Hotel. For 11 years, the devoted Evans brought his big cats from the ranch to the hotel each day, carefully rotating them so visitors could enjoy the species every day without taxing any individual lion.
THE LION, of course, has long been the symbol of MGM Studios in Hollywood.  We all remember the mighty roar at the beginnings and ends of movies.
Bev Evans has spent
years caring for lions.
The lions, Evans was proud to say, never spent the night at the hotel, because he always returned them to his Ranch for shut-eye. And although the old location closed in January 2012, visitors can still enjoy these exquisite creatures at the non-profit Ranch.
A giraffe who paints?  You betcha.  Here, a worker readies the brush.
The gift shop sells Ozzie's beautiful, bold, one-of-a-kind paintings.
(The Mirage, up the Strip, still hosts Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden, a zoo-like animal sanctuary hosting tigers, lions, panthers and bottle nose dolphins.) Ranch workers said that MGM curtailed its lion exhibit because two lion shows in close proximity was too much to sustain.)
PERHAPS THAT was a good thing for Evans' enterprise. Now the lions don't have to be schlepped back and forth, and they live in a relaxed, clean, well organized operation.   Workers interact with ease -- on a three-fold basis: with one another, with the audience and with the critters.
THE HABITAT offers a learning experience, too.  As one strolls and pauses outside the expansive cages and runs, a subtle schooling is taking place.   Workers answer questions, sharing fascinating facts about the lions with which they've formed strong attachments.
Ozzie's paintings are a big hit at the habitat gift shop.  The giraffe
is not afraid of bold strokes, and seems to enjoy his creative bent.
I hadn't realized that "the girls" do the hunting, along with caring for newborns. And African lions are social, too -- they take dinner together -- eating as a group, just as we humans do. They sleep well over 15 hours -- sometimes as much as 20 hours daily -- usually together in a big slumber party.
WE WATCHED them romp -- and run a bit.  In the wild, they can reach speeds of 40 miles per hour and jump as high as 13 feet. We saw several jumps on the cleverly arranged ramps and levels that Evans designed, to approximate the ledges and drop-offs the lions might have in their own environment.
Mama lion, second from right, plays with her cubs after everyone has lunch.
We also joined a group of other tourists to watch the lions eat.  Three trainers hand-fed them, each receiving several pounds of horse meat.
The staff know the lions by name -- one group of siblings look similar to the novices among us, but one of the trainers tells them apart by the spots around the eyes -- one has two, one has three, etc. Fascinating.
CARETAKERS also spend hours each day keeping the lions
looking spiffy --  free of burrs and grass -- beauty-shop gorgeous. To assure the lions look good, trainers shampoo them with baby shampoo, then blow-dry their fur. Evans calls it "the mane attraction."
We were lucky in our timing to spend an hour with three trainers as they hand-fed the lions.  Then, frisky from a full tummy, they romped. It was thrilling to witness the cubs jump over mum and swat one another playfully.
If you feel flush,  join other visitors for private three- or four-hour private lion sessions. Prices begin at $800, all to help keep the place open.
A unique viewing "bubble" afford kids the opportunity to be under the sea.
THE PAINTING giraffe, Ozzie, is another delight.  He has been trained to connect his paintbrush to the canvas, and the results are charming, splashy works of art, for sale at the preserve, along with tastefully made hand jewelry.  Wonderful souvenirs.
Don't miss an opportunity to journey out to this close-by Las Vegas wonder.
You'll hit the jackpot.

UP NEXT: Come with us to a ring-side seat!  We'll dive under the sea, at the Bay Aquarium in San Francisco, where kids of all ages enjoy close-up views of marine life, in a small and user-friendly space.  Our "back to nature" series continues.  Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekends and as the adventures take us, at



  1. Had no idea this place existed. Wondered what became of MGM critters. These lions look so healthy. We will include it in our next Vegas itinerary. Great tip.

  2. Santa Fe Nature LoversJanuary 23, 2016 at 4:40 PM

    I doubt I'll ever be able to see these beautiful beings in the wild, so this will be the next best thing. Thanks to this devoted couple for caring for and sharing the lions, and for the couple who photographed and reported on their worthy endeavor.

  3. Londoners with U.S. TiesJanuary 24, 2016 at 1:02 PM

    I enjoy my armchair travels with Cookie and Bruce. They "grab all the gusto," as the old beer commercial encouraged! Refreshingly genuine in this time of fakery and bluster.