When MGM Grand closed its Las Vegas lion habitat in 2012, locals and tourists alike were upset. The free attraction was a perfect fit for the south Strip resort, showcasing the real king of the jungle at the same property known for having a massive bronze lion statue at its entrance to represent Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s beloved mascot.
Most people thought they would never see the lions again.
Little did they know, the lions weren’t actually cared for by MGM: they belonged to the habitat’s designer, trainer Keith Evans, who lived with the animals just down the street.
Lion Habitat Ranch is home to nearly 50 lions, many from the same bloodline as the real-life MGM lion — Photo courtesy of Lion Habitat Ranch
Today, guests can visit the lions at their sprawling 6.5-acre home in Henderson: the Lion Habitat Ranch. The ranch opened to the public in 2012 and features 47 gorgeous lions – many from the same bloodline as the real-life MGM lion.
Upon paying a nominal admission fee, guests can wander the grounds and see the majestic animals, who are literally just steps away from the public. Guests are so close, there are actually signs posted warning them not to stand directly behind the animals so they don’t get sprayed!
Each lion’s name and birthdate is displayed on their respective enclosures, so visitors know who they are seeing. Those who remember getting their photos taken with some of the lions when they were cubs at MGM will be astounded to see just how big they’ve grown!
"The Amazing Race"/Chippendales star Jaymes Vaughan feeds Ozzie the giraffe — Photo courtesy of Lion Habitat Ranch
Guests who want to get even closer to the amazing animals can with the Lion Habitat Ranch’s interactive Trainer for a Day program, which, among other activities, lets guests feed, water and bathe a lion as well as work an adult lion to a “mark.” Through the experience is priceless, the $800 price tag might be a bit too expensive for most.
Luckily, guests can also sign up to hand-feed a lion for just $100.
Hand-feed participants will be escorted between the fence separating the public from the lion enclosures by a member of the ranch’s staff and given a pound of horse meat to ball up and push against a small opening in the cage, using the palm of their hand. Guests will be instructed to leave their hand flat against the cage for a few extra seconds so that the lion can lick their palm clean, and so that they can see what a lion’s tongue actually feels like.
For added security, a piece of Plexiglas is placed between the guest and the lion's cage, with a hole just big enough for the meat to go through. So participants are 100 percent safe throughout the entire experience.
If feeding a lion is a bit too adventurous for you, the Lion Habitat Ranch rescued a baby giraffe named Ozzie back in September that visitors can hand-feed as well. For just $20, guests will be given three stalks of lettuce and instructed on how to hold the stalks for the best possible photographs.
In addition to Ozzie, the Lion Habitat Ranch is home to several other rescue animals, including three ostriches, two emus, macaws, cockatoos and guinea hens.
Probably its most popular resident right now, though, is Angel, the adorable lion cub born to one of the habitat’s lionesses in late September 2014. Guests can see the playful cub interact with Evans and his wife Bev from noon to 2 p.m. Friday through Monday. Don't forget your camera!
The Lion Habitat Ranch is located near M Resort Spa Casino at 382 Bruner Ave. It's open Friday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. General admission is just $25; kids 14 and younger are free. Private tours are available as well.
For more information, visit the Lion Habitat Ranch's website.