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LION HABITAT RANCH

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South of The Strip

382 Bruner Ave.

Henderson, NV 89044

702-595-6666

website

$20 adults

Fri-Mon 11am-4pm

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AT A GLANCE

What is it?

A home for dozens of lions, including some that used to be featured at the now-closed MGM Grand Lion Habitat.

Where is it?

In Henderson, about 10 miles south of The Strip near M Resort.

Is it worth the cost?

Absolutely - this is fun and educational, especially for animal lovers.

What else do I need to know?

They have packages that allow you to interact with the big cats.

What's the bottom line?

A much better experience than when they were at the MGM Grand - totally worth the drive.

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FULL REVIEW

One of the biggest "secrets" of the former MGM Grand Lion Habitat was that the lions didn't actually live on site. Instead they were brought in daily from their real home in Henderson, a facility that is now open to the public as the Lion Habitat Ranch.

Getting there requires a car and a really good map. It's located within roaring distance of the M Resort on the far south side of Las Vegas, but it's basically out in the middle of the desert off a narrow, poorly marked road.

Make the effort, though, and you'll be rewarded with a fun, well-run facility that gives you some close-up views of the kings (and queens) of the jungle.

The ranch is the labor of love of Keith and Bev Evans, who have been working with big cats for decades and running this particular facility for more than 20 years. All of the cats were either rescued, donated, or born here and include some that are direct descendants of the original MGM lion that roared at the beginning of movies.

The number and type of cats on site varies - sometimes they are out on jobs - but when I visited there were about two dozen that ranged from a few weeks old to 18 years, which is the upper end of the scale for how long lions live in captivity (about twice as long as in the wild).

The lions that are born here are raised by hand and socialized with humans to they are much more docile than some of the cats that came from elsewhere. The result can be some adorable tableaus, as cubs tussle and play with and get bottle fed by their handlers and adult cats recognize the people who raised them since birth. Having said that, these are still powerful animals and precautions are taken both for the trainers and the guests who are kept separate from the cats by multiple fences and railings.

Options for touring the facility include the basic do-it-yourself version, in which you walk around and look in the various habitats at the lions and are able to ask questions of the trainers on site; a more immersive guided tour with a trainer; a "trainer for a day" program where you will get to interact with the animals; and a "feast with the beast" facility that has a glass-enclosed dining area inside one of the lion habitats. Prices start at $20 and go up into the hundreds for the more in depth programs.

The MGM Grand Lion Habitat was free but the most you usually got out of that was jostling with the other tourists to get as close as possible to the glass so you could watch lions, usually, just laying there being lazy. The $20 fee here is more than worth it to get up close and watch everything from lazing to ball chasing to feedings. Although there are the inevitable pangs of "animals like this shouldn't be in captivity," it is obvious that they are well-loved and cared for in ways that some of their wild brethren might jealous of.

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