<< Back

Livin' Local: Into the Wild – Up Close and Personal with Our Local Animal Kingdom

I wasn’t quite sure what I had gotten myself into when I turned around to see a 500 lb. male lion just inches behind me. Mind you, he was busy slurping up raw meat and didn’t seem at all interested in what I was doing there (oh, and did I mention the layer of industrial strength plexiglass between us?), but the sheer size and presence of such a powerful animal that close up is a bizarre mixture of unsettling and truly inspiring all at once. You might wonder how I got the opportunity to hobnob with the “King of the Jungle.” Honestly, it wasn’t that hard. I didn’t have to hop on a plane, or even flash my media badge for a behind the scenes peek. I drove 10 minutes on St. Rose and walked right in. It was one of the two places I traveled in our diverse city to experience close-up encounters with some pretty fascinating wild animals.

By Meghan Pescio

The Lion Habitat Ranch

Lion Habitat 1

When the Lion Exhibit at MGM Grand closed in early 2012 the lions’ owners, Keith and Beverly Evans, began to receive inquiries from visitors missing the excitement. They decided to retrofit and open the habitat they had run behind their home for 25 years so that the public could once again enjoy and appreciate the majesty of the creatures they cared for.

We’re glad they did. There’s no other way to describe this place besides downright cool.

Nearly 50 African lions and two newly adopted female ostriches reside at the habitat on 382 Bruner Dr. just east of the M Resort in Henderson. The 8.5 acre outdoor facility takes visitors in a circle to interact with the cats – sometimes lazily spread out in a shady spot and other times right up against the fences, seemingly within reach (although not quite) to onlookers. In addition to watching them interact, hearing a bone chilling roar and simply admiring that familiar, formidable strut, onlookers learn history and hear stories and fun facts from experienced handlers with a special, unmatched love and respect for the exotic beasts. If you’ve never seen a 5’4” woman walk up to five male adolescent lions and pet them like house cats…then you haven’t seen anything.

Truth is, to Keith, Beverly and the hired handlers, these animals are close to family. With decades of experience with large wild cats between them, it was clear during my visit that daily work consists of ensuring the safety, comfort and happiness of the animals as well as the safety of employees and visitors. After all, they’re dealing with lions and nobody’s forgotten that. The ultimate goal of the organization run by Evans, The Cat House Inc., is to raise awareness and funds to protect animals in the wild – which aren’t faring so well due to loss of habitat and human conflict in Africa. 

Entry into the sanctuary is $20 for adults with free entry for a child 13 years or younger with each adult. In addition to general visitors, the Lion Habitat Ranch also hosts special events from large corporate get-togethers to children’s birthday parties. Small dinners can be held in a section of the habitat that protrudes into one of the dens – the lions will be just as curious about you as you are about them. A completely unique experience exists in special programs such as Trainer for a Day during which you shadow a trainer for feeding, bathing and handling lions for 3-4 hours. At $800, it’s not cheap, but when you get to be up close and personal with the king of all beasts, it’s worth it.

For more information on hours of operation, facility rental and more visit www.thecathouse.us

Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary


The friendly staff at Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary joke that their facility, located at 8103 Racel St., is half way to Reno. For any bird lover or parent with young children the trip’s Return On Driving Investment is solid – it makes for a great half day adventure to interact closely with all sorts of animals from colorful macaws and toucans to a mule deer and two adorable pot bellied pigs.  

Established in 1970 by William Gilcrease, the facility is used mainly to care for pets, predominantly birds but also barnyard animals, which have been estranged from their owners either due to inability to provide care or to abuse. Bambi, a friendly mule deer you can pet and feed, greets visitors as they enter the eight acre grounds. Aviaries featuring small, colorful cockatiels and larger, more exotic looking Turacos take center stage while cockatoo, macaw and pheasant are housed separately. The cockatoo room is loud, and may be a bit off putting for the little ones, but if they enjoy seeing the birds up close visitors can trek between the cages to the back where a beautiful toucan calls home. A well-groomed nature trail brings guests to a small petting area with goats, burros and llama as well as miniature ponies, ostriches, emus, peacocks, tortoises and of course the pots. A small amphitheater welcomes field trips, events (such as the April 19 “Wings in Spring”) and more.

Most exciting for the sanctuary are future plans for redevelopment. After a devastating fire in 2010, staff is busy preparing to restore and improve the facilities to give animals even more comfort and space. The loving and knowledgeable attitude of the staff, as well as their emphasis on education, is refreshing after seeing animals that have already been through so much.

General admission ranges from free-$4 based on age.  For more information on hours, events, donation and volunteer opportunities and more visit www.gnslasvegas.org.


  • It is not cool to have these lions in cages. Before you fawn all over Keith and his enterprise you might want to do a little research. Exotic animals are not meant to be in cages for their entire lives for human entertainment. Animals are not being bred because they are vanishing in the wild, they are bred purely for profit. Things have not gone well for Keith over the past few years. He has spoken publicly about how much it costs to feed and vet the animals. He lost a huge income source when he left the MGM. This is why he breeds them. You might want to ask him what happens to the older lions, where do they go? The cubs are used for photo ops until they become a danger to the public. A danger, yes, because they are wild animals and that is their nature. Just ask Roy about the big cat that attacked him. All of their animals were raised from cubs. They could not have been any closer. But attack he did and Roy still bears those scars. Do some research about the real issue of exotics and why they are not meant to be held captive. You have a voice. Be part of the cure for their plight not part of the problem.

    • I like to address S Swearingen comments. First, Lions are vanishing in the wild. A recent article has just exposed that AZA zoos who have used birth control to stop breeding of their lions have discovered that the birth control isn’t wearing off and now they can’t support the species survival programs.
      Yes, I too would love to see all the animals in captivity only in the wild, if the wild was as safe as it has been implied. Trophy hunters are killing the biggest and the best of the lions in the wild. Farmers are poisoning water holes to poach elephants, but also every other animal that drinks dies. Natives are poisoning bait carcass that kills multiple links on the food chain. South African ranchers are now raising lions to hunt on private reserves because they have killed off so many of the natural wild lions.
      Check the link. http://www.cannedlion.org/ which we support with donations to protect the lions and stop this practice. Do you?
      I breed my lions because they are decedents of the MGM logo lion born in the USA in 1924.
      If you visit the ranch you will see a lot of the old lions because we normally keep all our births. We have made exceptions for requests by other Zoos to acquire new blood lines and have sent cubs to them, but in 20 yrs we have only placed 5 cubs and not as a profit making enterprise for sure. Sometimes we do offer cub interactions and cub photos because we have found that having the tactile contact with the animal embeds a deep connection with the human where they are less likely to go out and kill or support the killing of animals in the wild, either by hunting or poisoning. Humans only save things they love and we demonstrate that lions are worth saving, here at the ranch by showing how much love is shared with our lions.
      We never put the general public in danger and never would. Yes Roy was bitten by a tiger he raised, but it was his choice to come in contact with that animal, he knew the risks as we do. Same risks that high steel workers face, there were more deaths building City Center than from exotics in Nevada ever. As far as having lions in cages the leading expert in wild lions, Dr. Craig Packer, just stated that the only way to protect the wild lions would be to fence them in reserves. So even in the wild, saving lions will require caging, as it does here in the USA, it is only a matter of the size of the cage. In regards to loss of income, you are correct, but we operate now as any other business whether it is an AZA Zoo or a Sanctuary, by charging a fee. Yes I will speak out as to the expense of raising these animals just like I speak out about exotics not making pets. Our lions serve as Ambassadors for their wild cousins, because not everyone can go to Africa and never will be as close even then, as they are at the ranch, while being safe. Just by the way we did rescue the lioness and other animals from the Las Vegas Zoo when it closed and other animals from other places. I think we are still a cool place to visit, but of course that is just my opinion.

    • Shame on you Sandy. You must be really unhappy. I’ve been to the Lion Habitat with my entire family and I’ve never seen a cleaner, happier, more well-tended group of animals. I’ve been all over this country to zoos and supposed “rescue” habitats and nothing compares to the level of care and love these lions receive. None of them were hunted or captured from the wild and to release any of them into the wild would be akin to murder. I’m sure Keith would love to give them more room to roam and play had he the money and land to work with, but what they are provided with is lovely and more than I have seen provided most anywhere else. Shame on you for being an Internet Troll.

  • It’s clear by Sandy’s comments she is the one in need of a lot of research when it comes to the Lion Habitat..
    Your comments are about as far away from the truth…. as you can get….
    I spend almost every Sunday at the habitat it’s peaceful and tranquil, the lions are exercised, well fed, their environment is always clean These animals are loved and cared about by their caretakers… I’ve observed nothing but kindness and respect to each and every animal on site….
    Shame on you for posting untruths about The Lion Habitats intentions….

  • We spent a few hours at the Wild Habitat Ranch, and it was one of the highlights of last year. My husband and I where pleasantly shocked at how immaculate the place was. There was no waste in the enclosures, there was no smell of urine or waste, it was hot and the lions were happy in their air conditioned little hideaways. We had the great pleasure of seeing cubs playing with their parents. I was surprised that the little guys were being raised by momma and papa, but I also saw how gentle he was with his rough housing little trio.

    In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need places like this.. Lions could roam free and be safe.. so could elephants, siberian tigers, the grizzly and the great panda, but we don’t. We live in a world that has changed and we need places like this to stop animals from complete extinction.

    I am happy that people like Melissa Bachman don’t have the opportunity to show her way of showing how magestic and regal these beasts are, and how in this setting the opportunity arises for more awareness that brings more conservation for the king of the jungle. If one child on a field trip grows up to work as a conservationist on the Savana because of Pebbles or Princess, these animals have done their job.

    I for one, am happy the Lion Habitat Ranch is there so that I can have the opportunity to see the beauty in creatures, all are not fortunate enough to see.

  • I seen these lions when they were at the MGM and it was amazing. I then made a point to take my son to this ranch when I learned it was closed at the MGM. We finally got to visit this ranch this past Friday. We spent the afternoon, and let me tell you…if it was mean, cruel, dangerous or anything in that matter my son would never of wanted to attend. He is a huge animal person and I would not take him to something I think would show animal cruelty. This place was a cats sanctuary/home, like our house is our sanctuary. Samantha was amazing and so educational. She spent quite a bit of time talking and educating us in the way they are handled, raised, cared for ect. She is in that cage with those cubs exercising them and playing with them constantly. We got video of her laying and cuddling with Groucho and him sucking her fingers like a baby. The love and bond those lions have for their trainer is phenomenal. She raises the cubs til they are about a year or so and then another person takes over, I believer her name is Krista. When I seen her go into the cage with the older lions they all went running to her to greet her and get loved by her. It is so peaceful and tranquil to spend an afternoon there. Did you know a lion doubles their live span and gets to be spoiled and loved, in as close to their environment as possible because of what Keith and his team do for them? If these lions were unhappy they would have attacked long ago. They are not being paraded and showed like Roy did with his tigers. Tigers are not social animals like lions, it is almost a given if you parade your tigers you will have a mishap, same goes for parading any exotic animal. These animals are far from paraded. I specifically asked about the cages as I too felt “why cage them, let them have some room to run” well guess what, lions actually don’t need a lot of room to run. They only run in the wild when they are chasing for food or being hunted. They sleep 18-20 hrs a day and are social butterflies. So honestly, this place is a cats heaven. They are overgrown babies. yes, there is always a risk as they are exotic cats, but seriously…before you start bashing someone and what they are doing make sure you one, first visit the place yourself instead of being so judgemental, two get your facts straight, due research before you shoot your mouth off. We made the trip from Canada to see this place, better than any zoo I have ever seen. Zoos are not an idealistic place in my mind, this place however is amazing. They let nature take its course when it comes to breeding, they don’t just breed and ship them out or anything like that. Being uneducated in a topic isn’t wise if you are going to bash that topic. Please visit this place and then make an educated decision. Go in open minded and actually learn how it is ran and what they are doing for these animals. I will definitely be back to visit every time I am in Vegas. I have even told locals about it and they will for sure be out to check the ranch out. I would like to say thank you to Samantha for spending time with my son and I this past Friday and letting us into the knowledge of the ranch. I would also like to say thank you to Keith and his wife for what they do for these lions and continue the great work. We will be back to support you, may even have to plan an event next time I am in Vegas.

  • My family & I drive from CA just to visit The Lion Habitat Ranch. Keith and the staff are awesome! This is an amazing experience for all ages and very educational. After learning about the lions and interacting with the cubs we feel a deep connection to these amazing animals and want them protected. We have done a lot of research and fully support Keith’s and CACH’s efforts. A big thanks to the Evans’ family for their continued support of the lions and raising awareness of the declining lion population.

  • My husband and I have recently relocated to Henderson, Nv. One of my favorite places to visit is The Lion Habitat. I love animals and it was so apparent the love Keith has for his Lions. It is a clean, safe and well maintained facility. The reality of the situation is all the animals in the habitat have a safe and healthy environment and truly love their owner. Sandy you need to visit some morning as I did when Keith comes on property and all his lions call out to him. It is truly amazing the bond they have with him. The wild is not a safe place anymore! Keep up the good work Keith and don’t listen to the negativity, you and your staff are truly amazing.

  • Having known the Evans for years, anyone that has anything negative to say about them,their habitat or their lions is sadly ignorant. Those animals are loved and cared for more than most kids. They have been given a lifestyle that most people would be envious of. Get informed people (Sandy) before you open your mouth!

  • I have studied African lions for the last 30 years or so, including a trip to East Africa in 1999 to spend time around wild lions. With the wild habitat being slowly taken over for humans, there is not much room left for the lions (BTW, the situation is far worse for tigers). So, there is a place for lions and other big cats in captivity, and luckily for them, they adapt very well to a captive life. I now work with lions in two different facilities.

    In my travels and work, I have been to many facilties, both public and private, holding lions, and IMHO, there is nothing better the the Lion Habitat Ranch. Aesthetically, with the tall chain link fences, it might not be prettiest place (Keith’s cat enclosures and housing exceeds the state-of-the-art for big cat facilities), but you will never see better cared-for cats. His staff works with the lions, often in the enclosure, and you can watch them work with nothing but the fence in the way. They are always adding new lion-oriented activities for visitors to enjoy, including a program where you can be a lionkeeper for a day (highly recommended!). And there is no experience, period that can substitute for hearing 40 lions all roar together at once!

    This is something you really should take your family to see!

Leave a comment