Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the SunThe tigers next door (12-6-2012)
The lions once on display at the MGM Grand are making their comeback on their home turf — a ranch in Henderson where they've always lived.
The Lion Habitat Ranch — with about 40 lions and cubs — recently opened to the public near St. Rose Parkway and Las Vegas Boulevard.
For more than 40 years, owner Keith Evans has kept and trained lions at his ranch. He provided them to the MGM Grand habitat for 11 years until that closed about a year ago as part of the casino's renovation.
"They never stayed overnight at the hotel," Evans said.
He would transport them each day from the ranch on Bruner Avenue, southeast of St. Rose Parkway.
After the lions left the MGM, Evans said he was contacted by people wanting to see them and asking how they were.
But the animals were accustomed only to Evans; his wife, Beverly; and the 11 trainers they employ. To accommodate the public, Evans built glass enclosures, safety barriers and an arena to offer a "trainer-for-a-day" program and an area where people can hold the cubs for an extra fee.
"We wanted people to be able to do something besides just come and look at them," Evans said. "We also had to get the lions used to having strangers around. They're not used to seeing anyone else out here."
Last month, Evans welcomed seven cubs to his private pride. The six males and one female were born in two litters, Nov. 17 and 25, to sister lionesses Peebles and Rey Rey.
The ranch is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $20 for adults. One child 12 and under is admitted free for each adult. Evans also offers personal time with the cubs for $200 for two people for five minutes. These cub interactions are available through Jan. 2.
"After that, they'll be too old," Evans said.
Evans also offers three- and four-hour training sessions with the lions starting at $800.
The pride eats horse meat packaged in Nebraska and shipped to zoos.
"It's leaner than beef," Evans said.
Males eat 12-15 pounds a day, females 10-12 pounds. Once a week, they get horse shank bones. They also get beef steaks as treats.
For 43 years, Evans has worked with and kept lions. He said they have accepted him and his trainers as part of their pride and he doesn't feel in danger.
"Lions are very social animals," he said. "They're not tigers, which are very solitary. There's a risk for anything, but I feel comfortable around them, and I'm glad they can live here in our habitat and not in the wild, where people will hunt them for trophies."