For anyone looking to take a walk on the wild side in Las Vegas, there is a road 20 minutes from the Strip that leads to a lion’s share of fun.
You’ll find Lion Habitat Ranch, a seven-and-a-half-acre federal non-profit venue at Bermuda Rd. and Bruner Ave. in Henderson.
The ranch protects and houses 36 magnificent lions and is accredited by the Zoological Association of America. Open to the public Friday through Monday, the sanctuary gives guests the opportunity to cruise the perimeter of the numerous enclosures and observe this endangered species in the most up close and personal way; at some places from less than 4 feet.
Visitors can watch the lions, ranging in age from 3 ½ to 21 years old, being fed, playing, engaging with their handlers or these days, enjoying the cool breeze from swamp coolers inside their huge den boxes.
For Keith Evans. Founder and President of Lion Habitat Ranch, it all began with his desire to preserve the bloodline of the original MGM Studios logo lion. Having worked with exotic cats since the 1970s, he was hired in 1984 by the MGM hotel in Reno to take over the live lion photo operation which featured Metro, the current logo lion. To keep the bloodline as strong as possible, in 1988, Evans brought in a female rescue lion to breed with Metro, and Evans continued the breeding of the bloodline, producing 27 lions over 30 years. The last breeding was three years ago, and some of those descendants are still at the sanctuary.
“We don’t make the lions do tricks,” explained Evans, who directed the lion attraction in the middle of the Las Vegas MGM Grand casino from 1999 until January 2012. “The ranch is all about their enrichment, and people can watch us interact with them. They accept us; we become part of the pride. Lions are more sociable with humans than other species of the big cats.”
The ranch’s other main attraction is also on the endangered species list. Nevada’s only giraffe, Ozzie, paints for the public and is the only giraffe in the world who paints using a brush. At 4 ½ years old, he is over 14 feet tall and still growing with a tongue that grows an inch for every foot he grows. The staff will put the brush in his mouth and pick the colors for him; however, if it is a color Ozzie doesn’t like, he’ll spit out the brush.
For every stroke he paints on a canvas, he gets a reward. He will do a custom painting for a guest, who can hold the canvas while he’s doing it, or visitors can go into the gift shop and buy a painting, T-shirt, hat, or scarf that Ozzie has already finished.
Sustaining the needs of the ranch is a monumental task. The food alone for the lions costs $14,000-$16,000 a month. Because Lion Habitat Ranch exists solely on donations, there are admission fees as well as nominal fees for truly exceptional experiences such as having a behind-the-scenes tour, feeding Ozzie, or even hand feeding the lions. Clark County school field trips also provide local kids the chance to learn more about these majestic animals and their progress as endangered species. For those looking for an exotic backdrop, the property can be rented out for parties and events as well.
Whatever guests decide to do on their visit, a rip-roaring good time is guaranteed.