A week ago, on a day when the temperature was not blasting, I made a reservation and visited Henderson’s Lion Habitat Ranch
I love seeing animals up close, probably a result of my my parents regularly taking us to the St. Louis Zoo. I now love visiting Lion Habitat Ranch…even during a time of caution due to the corona virus.
These days, to visit the Ranch, online reservations are necessary (no walk-ins). You will receive a greeting at the gate (382 Bruner Ave., Henderson, not far from the M Resort). You will be asked about your reservation, will have your temperature taken, be cautioned to wear your mask and will be asked for your signed waiver (available on-line).
Lots of fun videos have been made by the Habitat staff to keep us interested in visiting. This one is called “Pass the treat”.
These days, 31 big cats reside at the Habitat along with a number of different birds (big and small) and a couple large turtles. You won’t see the animals as up close as you see in the video, but even through fences, they are impressive. Note: the previous number of 40 lions has been decreased in time with the deaths of several 20-year-old lions and the movement of other lions to the Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Arizona.
The “big guy” I did see up close was Ozzie the giraffe. Videos of Ozzie are all over Facebook and yes, I knew he had been trained to grab a paint brush with his tongue and let the brush paint make contact with a canvas, ultimately creating Ozzie’s version of modern art. Yep, I’ve watched the videos, but seeing Ozzie in person is really quite something, better than the video. He is really big — 16 feet tall, gentle and still growing. Until permission is granted from the Governor, visitors cannot personally feed Ozzie his treats, but you see that long tongue nonetheless.
Several families brought children to the Habitat and seeing three-foot tall youngsters looking up at tall Ozzie is something. Parents and kids are smiling. Ozzie alone is worth a visit to the Habitat. (Incidentally, the Habitat gift shop takes FULL advantage of Ozzie’s art work.)
Many of the Habitat’s lions were sleeping when I visited, though I did get a few photos. I’m told by Habitat President Keith Evans that the lions are hand-fed when visitors are around, but this visitor, on the day I visited, missed everything except one lion treat. Nonetheless, the lions are magnificent, and we did run into a chorus of growling lions, live entertainment just as memorable (though cheaper) than a Cirque show.
A great deal can be learned by visiting the Habitat. Regularly scheduled bird lectures take place during visiting hours, and when one stops to see Ozzie demonstrating his skills, a great deal of giraffe info is included as well. In addition, informative signs are in every area. This one is particularly memorable. “Caution: Male lions spray urine up to 15 feet across walkways.”
Guests at the Habitat can ask questions, and the young staffers in charge are very knowledgeable. Did you know giraffes only sleep one or two hours a day, eat 60 to 80 pounds of food a day and that their fighting technique is called “necking”? Did you know Military McCaws will live 60 to 80 years and that their squawks are loud and annoying (we heard that in person)?. A big lion will weigh 600 pounds, but a full-grown giraffe will weigh up to 3000 pounds! (Yep, go to the Lion Habitat Ranch and come home smarter.)
Evens has said that he wanted the Habitat to be a sanctuary where his lions can receive care and have a home for the rest of their natural lives. (Big cats typically live much longer in captivity than they do in the wild.) He said the Clark County Commission is holder of the “use permit” that allows the Habitat to be in its current location.
The online prices for entry to the Habitat range from free (children 1 to 4 or one child 4-14 when accompanied by an adult) to $25 for out-of-state visitors. Locals are charged $20 and military, first-responders and college students (all with an ID) pay $18 each. The Habitat is open Thursdays through Mondays. Reservations can be made from 11:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. only. Visitors are told to stay on the right side of the paths when walking through the Habitat, but I may have strayed from that directive to get up close to some of the cages. Picture taking, except with Ozzie, is difficult through the cages, but Evans said a new structure in partnership with the folks from Canon is being built to make picture-taking easier.
The Habitat is open for a number of special events as well.
Do I recommend a visit to Lion Habitat Ranch? Absolutely. Even now? Yes indeed. You will be supporting a not-for-profit organization that can use your entry fees. (Feeding one male lion costs $10,000 a year!) You will also see Nevada’s only giraffe, AND you will know more about lions, giraffes and big birds than you ever imagined during a coronavirus.