In Vegas and environs, 11 opportunities to hang out with animals

Las Vegas no longer has a zoo, but several menageries still offer visitors a chance to view a variety of wild or, in some cases, mild life including burros, stingrays, tigers and flamingos.

In some cases, guests can even interact with some of the planet's most fearsome creatures.


The feeding frenzy begins daily at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. at the Aquarium at the Silverton. A marine biologist with a two-way communication system swims among more than 4,000 tropical fish while doling out food and answering visitors' questions.

Info: 3333 Blue Diamond Road, Las Vegas.

The title of "cutest critter" may go to Angel, a lion cub born in late September at Lion Habitat Ranch (382 Bruner Ave., Henderson, Nev).

Owner Keith Evans is raising her after the cub's mother abandoned her, and her three littermates, just after they were born. The three others soon died.

"To this minute, I don't know why she survived and the others didn't," Evans told me.

The cub, who weighs just 11 pounds, traces her lineage back to 1924 and Slats, the first lion to appear on the silver screen in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films.

Evans, who has nearly 50 lions on display, has worked for decades to keep the bloodline alive.

The wildlife park is also home to other animals such as ostriches and a rescued, 8-month-old giraffe named Oz. The ranch offers opportunities to feed the beasts or even work as a trainer.

Info: Open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays-Mondays. Admission is $20.

Sharks are the main attraction at the Tank Aquarium at the Golden Nugget. Hotel guests can "swim" with the sharks as they travel through a fully enclosed waterslide that's surrounded by the shark tank. Behind-the-scenes tours provide the chance to learn more about these feared creatures, including what they prefer come feeding time.

Info: Behind-the-scenes tours at 3:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays. Admission is $30. (866) 946-5336

Young lions gain as much as 12 pounds each month, a fact that hasn't gone unnoticed at Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage.

Among its many residents are three white lion cubs born in April. The famous magicians' rare white tigers can also be viewed in natural settings.

Info: Open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends. Adults $19.95, children 4-12 $14.95.


A free experience awaits just across the Strip at the Exotic Bird Habitat at Flamingo. The jungle-like environment beside the pool features exotic birds, fish and turtles.

The habitat is best known for Flamingo Island with its large flock of Chilean flamingos.

Info: Open 8 a.m.-dusk daily. Pelican feedings are at 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

A wealth of birds and mammals can be found at Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary in Las Vegas.

It's home to hundreds of birds, from household parakeets to exotic species of parrots. Four-legged inhabitants include giant tortoise, llamas and porcupines.

Bill Gilcrease, who's 95 and still lives on the property, founded the preserve in 1970.

Info: 8103 Racel St., Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Admission is $4 for adults and $2 for children 2 to 12.

Nevada is well-known for its free-roaming wild burros and horses, both of which are often spotted at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (Highway 159 about 20 miles west of the Strip).

Rangers can advise the best viewing spots and there's a 13-mile drive beside colorful rock formations.

Info: Open 6 a.m.-5 p.m. November through February. Admission is $7 per vehicle.

At the opposite end of the Las Vegas Valley, Hemenway Valley Park in Boulder City affords superb opportunities to see another of the region's four-legged natives, bighorn sheep.

During the warmest months, they come down from the mountains to water and graze. In late fall, their breeding season, the males can be seen butting their large, curved horns to determine mating rights.

Info: 401 Ville Drive, Boulder City, on the way to Hoover Dam.

A couple of dozen cats and dogs take center stage during the Popovich Pet Comedy Theater show at the V Theater in the Miracle Mile Shops.

The animals, all rescued from shelters, perform some amazing acrobatic feats with encouragement from Gregory Popovich, the trainer and ringmaster. Who said you can't teach an old dog, or cat, new tricks?

Info: Shows at 4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. General admission is $34.99.

You can enjoy fine food and wine as serene swans float by at Aureole, Chef Charlie Palmer's restaurant at Mandalay Bay. Swan Court forms the centerpiece and is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows.

Info and reservations: (702) 632-7401.

If you want to get very up close and personal, visitors to Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay can actually dive into a 1.3-million-gallon tank in which 30 sharks dwell.

Trained guides join participants, who must at least 18, certified divers and guests staying either at Mandalay Bay or the neighboring Delano Las Vegas.

Less adventurous visitors may prefer the touch pool, where only their hands get wet during interactions with sting rays.

Info: Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. General admission is $18 for adults and $12 for children 5-12.

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